Are Pizza Boxes Compostable? (And Biodegradable Too?)

Although the jury is still out, we can all agree that there are approximately 200 countries, in seven continents, carrying over 7.6 billion people, whose most popular foods, include, among others, pizza. No list of the most popular food in the world can be complete without the inclusion of pizza, whose various forms have existed for thousands of years.

The evolution of pizza continues and today, it is boxed before being served to customers. This means that once you are done with the delicious pizza, you will be left with a pizza box, which usually ends up in the dust bin. However, can you do something else with these pizza boxes rather than trashing them? This article looks into the best way to get rid of pizza boxes.

Can You Compost Pizza Boxes?

One word, yes. Pizza boxes are compostable, although caution is advised before composting the boxes. Most pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, a material that is made from three layers of paper liners glued together.

The corrugated cardboard has a ribbed structure to insulate the product and retain its heat, is rigid and light to give the pizza comfortable handling, and is also an excellent absorbent of the fat present in the pizza.

The corrugated cardboard, made from paper liners, also means that they are biodegradable, making them excellent candidates for the composting bin. Inside the composting bin, the pizza boxes add carbon, one-half of the ingredients required to make an excellent compost, the other being nitrogen which comes from fresh waste like freshly-cut grass or leaves, and vegetable scraps.

There are two major caveats to adding pizza boxes to the composting bin.

One is if the pizza boxes you have, contain or are made of corrugated plastic or wax-coated cardboard. These types of materials should not be put in your composter since the content will not break down. The point of composting is to allow your waste the opportunity to biodegrade and break down completely, enriching your soil and plants.

If the materials making the pizza boxes cannot break down, then there is no point in composting them. Even if the ideal environment for composting is present, they will take forever to break down.

Simply put, just do not add them. Bleached or white cardboard or boxes with a lot of ink printing are slightly unsafe and should be added in small quantities. This is because the chemicals and dyes used might contaminate the compost.

The second caveat is you should only compost parts of the boxes that were not contaminated with the grease, cheese, crumbs or sauce from the pizza. These contaminants make the boxes non-recyclable and non-compostable and could result in tremendous problems when recycling or composting.

Others argue that even those parts soiled with the grease can be composted. Yes, it is possible, but be careful with it. The biggest problem with composting greased pizza boxes, other than contaminating the compost, is inviting rodents and pests who might be another problem. Therefore, clean the boxes first, removing the wax parts as well as food remnants.

Next, tear the boxes into smaller sizes so that the composting process takes less time, then add them to the composter. Be sure to mix or turn the compost for better aeration as well as moisturizing the contents. In two to three months, the shredded pizza boxes will be reduced to compost and will be unrecognizable.

Are Pizza Boxes Biodegradable?

Yes, pizza boxes are biodegradable, explaining why they can be composted. Not only are they biodegradable, but they are also recyclable. When properly done and under the ideal conditions, a pizza cardboard box will take about 90 days to biodegrade or decompose.

The reason why they are biodegradable is that pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, a material that is made from layers of paper liners glued together. The paper can break down, meaning the entire box can biodegrade.

The biodegradability of pizza boxes, however, is highly based on the material used to make the boxes. They are biodegradable as long as they are made with corrugated cardboard and not coated with wax, which is generally the case.

Again, not all wax-coated cardboard boxes will be bad for the environment, because those made from a compostable bee or soybean wax will biodegrade. However, those made from plastic or plastic-related wax, will not biodegrade.

Also, the grease from the pizza can affect the biodegradability of the pizza boxes. When the oil sticks to the cardboard, it stays there and cannot be cleaned off. Along with the food, the grease can also contaminate the entire batch if you planned to recycle the pizza boxes.

To properly reuse or recycle the boxes, clean off the food fragments first. If the point was to have the boxes biodegrade, clean them first as they can invite rodents, flies and other pests which will disrupt the process of breaking down.

To be on the safe side, just cut the boxes into small pieces and then use the parts of the box that are clean or not contaminated. Chopping the boxes up into small pieces also ensures the process goes on quickly since much more surface area is exposed to the decomposition process.  

Are Pizza Boxes Microwave Safe?

Well, yes, you can, but be very careful. Microwaving a pizza box is an easy way to reheat leftover pizza and avoid dirtying a dish in the process. However, be careful about several things before you opt to reheat your pizza in the microwave in the pizza box.

First, never place an empty pizza box in the microwave without the pizza. Remember, pizza boxes are made of paper, which is flammable and can combust when heated. Considering the high temperatures of the microwave, never reheat a box without pizza in it to absorb the microwave’s energy.

Secondly, be sure to double-check and make sure that the pizza box does not contain any metal parts. It is not safe to microwave metal pieces because they may spark and damage your appliance.

Thirdly and closely related to the previous point, make sure the pizza box is not made or contains plastic or wax coating. Again, considering the high temperatures inside the microwave, heating plastic or wax will melt them, which is not safe for you, your food or your microwave.

As such, the best recommendation is to avoid using a pizza box to reheat leftovers. Yes, there is the desire not to make a plate dirty which will result in you cleaning it, but the risk of the alternative is simply not worth the reward.

Just get the plate dirty, enjoy your leftover slice and clean it afterward, rather than risking a fire hazard, melting plastic or sparks inside the appliance that will leave it damaged.

You can also use the plate with a paper towel which will absorb the moisture and prevent a soggy crust. You can also use a microwave crisper pan or the toaster oven because the pizza will retain the crispy crust and the cheese will melt more evenly.

Can Pizza Boxes Go in The Recycling Bin?

Definitely, pizza boxes can and should go to the recycling bin. As we have already established, pizza boxes are normally made from corrugated cardboard, a totally recyclable material.

However, there is one big obstacle to recycling pizza boxes and is the pizza itself. Pizza is a food and is made using grease, meaning the boxes, will contain fragments of the food, and stains from the oils.

The grease prevents the paper fibers from binding during the recycling process and this results in a poor quality paper product. This is the major reason why most municipalities do not offer cardboard recycling, and if they do, they do not want you to add food or grease-contaminated pizza boxes to their collection bins.

Recycling centers want to avoid greasy boxes with stuck-on food bits due to the way they treat the paper products

The paper and cardboard recycling process require the items to soak in water and chemicals to soften the fibers and mix them into a slurry-like liquid. If the cardboard is full of grease, it will not mix with the water and allow the pulp to separate from the oil properly.

When this happens, the whole batch becomes unusable, which is a colossal waste of water and resources. Again, if the recyclable load becomes contaminated with the grease from pizza boxes then the whole load will be sent to a landfill, which is a dire consequence for your sustainability goals.

As such, the best way to recycle pizza boxes is to discard any leftover food in your organics collection bin before putting the box in the recycling.

Any heavily greased cardboard can be torn off and put in the trash before putting the clean cardboard in the recycling stream. Only recycle parts of the box that do not have food contamination. This means that the entire lid of a box, which largely remains clean, is perfectly safe to recycle.

5 Cretive Uses of Pizza Boxes

1. Make a bed for your cat

Cats love boxes of all sizes and shapes, and your kitty has probably been eyeing that pizza box ever since it came in through the door. Save yourself from buying that expensive cat bed as she will only abandon it in favor of the nearest box, and make a bed from the pizza box. No need to cut or fold the box, although you will tear the top off. You can add the cat’s favorite ratty blanket for extra comfort.

2. Make a laptop stand

Simply flatten the box out completely, including the tabs, sides and flaps. Then, fold it back together so that it forms a gentle slope. At the bottom of the slope, fold a small edge up to prevent your laptop from sliding off. There should even be a hole at the back that you can easily pass a charger cable through.

3. Making a kid’s art easel

Art easels can be expensive and are the things kids use once or twice and then abandon and forget. For your artsy kid, use or give them that pizza box, which they will use and may abandon and will not cost you much. Let them explore their creativity by cutting the boxes up and joining them using tape or glue.

4. Make a pizza box nightstand

You can use your pizza boxes for storage solutions, which will also showcase your love for pizza. You can make a simple drawer nightstand that will help you store your items and your desk organized.

5. Making wall art

You can use your pizza boxes to make beautiful wall art. Paint on them and make your own wall art designs before hanging them on the wall. It might be a good way to explore your artsy side.

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.