Should You Recycle Pizza Boxes?? The Answer Might Surprise You…

About 3 billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States. That’s a whole lot of pizza boxes!

Fun fact: Out of the whole US, PENNSYLVANIA has the highest ratio of pizza places per 10,000 people. WE’RE NUMBER 1! WE’RE NUMBER 1!

Obviously, pizza boxes are a pretty common part of the US waste stream, but did you know they are actually NOT recyclable?

Shocked? We’ve know how you feel. But once you learn a little bit more about the paper recycling process, it makes total sense. Pizza boxes are commonly made of corrugated cardboard, which is recyclable. But once a pizza drops in that box, it is deemed as “soiled” cardboard. This is because the cheese, grease and food residues soak into the box. Grease or oils from food makes any paper product impossible to recycle. 

Why is that you ask? Great question. And the answer is simple: WATER. Water is a key component to the paper recycling process. First, paper is sorted and washed with a soapy mix to eliminate dirt, dyes, plastic films and staples. Next, it heads into an enormous vat where it is mixed with water to create ‘slurry’, which is a cool term to define the base materials that paper products come from. By adding different materials to the slurry, the end paper product can become cardboard, office paper or newspaper. It’s then spread using large rollers and then cut to get ready to head back out into the world.

As many of us know, oil & water DO NOT mix. Oil can cause the slurry to separate and become lumpy, sometimes destroying the entire batch. That is why pizza boxes with their prevalent grease stains cannot be recycled. If it’s totally devoid of grease or oil or food scraps, it’s probably fine. But it’s pretty rare for one of those to cross our path (unless the children descend on it so fast it barely hits the box. But even then….)

Bright side? Pizza boxes are definitely compostable in a commercial setting, as food scraps and oils are always part of the mix. If you’re backyard composting, the greasy parts should probably be left out, but you can still rip it up and drop in the rest of the cardboard. This can be especially helpful in the winter when you may be running low on “brown” feedstocks. 

So, what have we learned today? 

  1. Us Pennsylvanians love pizza. 
  2. Paper recycling is a very cool process but does NOT like grease. 
  3. You can’t recycle your pizza box – but you CAN compost it!

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