Can You Recycle Pizza Boxes? (And Rules To Dispose)

Pizza is that one food that is almost everyone’s go-to, and in the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 3 billion pizzas are sold every year. About 2 billion are transported and delivered in cardboard pizza boxes adding up to approximately 674,614,000 lbs of waste. This happens because once you make an order, it is brought to you in a box, and after consuming the delicacy the box is disposed of.

Therefore, the main concern is, how can the issue of pizza cardboard waste boxes be managed? There are quite a number of legitimate questions as to the efficacy of disposing of these boxes and this article seeks to demystify them.

Are Pizza Boxes Recyclable?

1. Yes, if they are clean: Pizza boxes are made from paper and corrugated cardboard, and most manufacturers assure us that these items are recyclable. However, Pizza contains grease and some of it might contaminate the box, making the recycling process a bit tough. For this reason, pizza boxes should only be recycled if they are clean. Actually, about 73% of the US population has access to recycling programs that accept pizza boxes.

2. What if there are leftovers? If there are leftovers, the box CANNOT be recycled directly. In other words, the box should not be recycled if it contains any leftover foods. Such foods ought to be discarded in the organics collection bin first before the box is considered for recycling.

3. If the box is contaminated with grease, unfortunately, it CANNOT be recycled: If the pizza box is contaminated with pizza grease or oil, it is difficult to recycle due to cross-contamination. For the box to be eligible for recycling, one should tear off the greased part of the box, put it in the trash and then put the clean cardboard in the recycling stream. If greased pizza boxes find themselves in the recycle bin, the whole load is sent to a landfill, which is not good for environmental protection and sustainability.

Can You Recycle Frozen Pizza Boxes?

1. NO, if made from paperboard: frozen pizza boxes are made of poly-coated paperboard, otherwise known as plastic-coated paperboard. Such a product is made using a thin layer of plastic, which prevents freezer burns, moisture leaks and product degradation during use.

The thin layer of plastic used in the packaging of frozen pizza boxes makes it hard for such boxes to be recycled. As such, before attempting to recycle them with your other recyclables, find out if your local haulers can accept them as most of them don’t.

2. YES, if made of mixed-materials packaging: Poly-coated paperboards are made using mixed-materials packaging. The product contains several different materials and makes up the packaging for frozen pizza. Both materials used to make these boxes are recyclable, but are layered in such a way that it is difficult to separate them during recycling.

Some waste management companies accept these poly-coated paperboard materials for recycling but others don’t. For those that do, they use hydro-pulping, a process where the polyethylene is separated from the paper fibers and then the materials are recycled separately.

3. MAYBE, if made of wax-coated cardboard: Products made from wax-coated cardboard are similar to and often confused with poly-coated paperboards. The difference is that if you stretch them, wax-coated cardboards comes out easily. They are rarely recyclable.

It is interesting to note that wax-coated cardboard materials are compostable, though only if the material’s coating is made of compostable wax, such as soybeans or beeswax, but not paraffin wax. However, frozen food boxes like frozen pizza boxes, as well as other poly-coated paperboard products, should never be composted because of the plastic they contain.

Are Pizza Boxes Compostable?

1. Yes, composting pizza boxes has been hailed as a great alternative to recycling. This way, the box together with paper napkins and food scraps, are tossed directly into your organic bin’s collection. In fact, some cities like Toronto, San Francisco and Vancouver are now welcoming pizza boxes in their organic collection programs.

The North Carolina State University instituted a composting program for their used pizza boxes and in the 12 months between March 2014 and March 2015, they had composted 8,700 pizza boxes.

2. NO, frozen pizza boxes are made of plastic-coated paperboard, made using a thin layer of plastic, which prevents freezer burns, moisture leaks and product degradation during use. Also, as already mentioned above, frozen pizza boxes may be recyclable if they are made from wax-coated cardboard or poly-coated paperboard.

Wax-coated cardboard products can also be composted, only if the material’s coating is made of compostable bee or soybean wax. However, frozen pizza boxes should not be composted. The presence of the plastic lining makes it not a good idea to compost frozen pizza boxes as plastic is non-biodegradable.

How to Dispose of Pizza Boxes?

1. Know the Rules

Before recycling that pizza box, understand the rules and requirements within your locality or municipality. Some municipalities allow for recycling waste while others don’t. Also, some accept pizza boxes in the recyclable bin while others don’t.

For instance, New York City allows for pizza boxes in the recyclable bins, but they have to be cleaned by removing and discarding the liner of it is soiled. In contrast, Huntsville, Alabama does not accept pizza boxes in their recyclable bins at all.

2. Check Out the Box

If your city or municipality accepts pizza boxes for recycling, you need to check your box before taking it there. Most pizza boxes are greasy and the grease soaks into the paper fibers and cleaning grease off any item is very hard. One greasy paper fiber can contaminate an entire box and indeed an entire batch of recyclable materials.

Additionally, if there are crumbs or the box has grease on it, and is thrown in with other boxes in a collection point, they could attract insects, rodents and other animals. Therefore, clean the box, by removing any grease or food residue. If it cannot be removed, cut that part out and only recycle the clean and sticker-free pieces of the cardboard

3. Do Your Research

It is important to do your research before proceeding any further. Most people, having a clean box and with their municipalities accepting pizza boxes for recycling, would wish-cycle, where they go ahead and dump the pizza boxes there, and wish for the best. However, things are changing and wish-cycling would result in a problem down the line.

Contamination in the recyclable materials from the US made China stop accepting most recyclable from North America in January 2018. A year later, India did the same and banned all imports of foreign solid plastic waste and scrap.

4. Where Recycling is Not an Option

Composting is the next best thing if recycling is not an option in your area or your case. With a compost bin, you will be able to throw away the food scraps, shredded paper, woodchips and greasy pizza boxes. By composting, the waste materials will be thrown directly into your organics’ collection. It can benefit the environment as the waste materials will enrich the soil and not end up in landfills.

5. Reuse Them With Homemade Pizza

You can also contribute to cleaning the mess by not ordering in and learning to make the pizzas at home. This way, you will not have a pile of pizza boxes from pizza vendors. It also means you can have your pizza on a piece of plate, which can be cleaned easily afterward. Making pizzas at home is fun and easy and is a fun treat for the whole family.

6. Reuse the Boxes

You can also reuse some of your pizza boxes by placing your homemade pizza on them. At the moment, there are no prototypes of reusable pizzas and it means we have to ensure the boxes we have are used again and again for as long as it is possible, before ordering some more.

The boxes can also be torn up and be used for other purposes. We should reduce and then reuse pizza boxes in as much as it is possible until we have cultural and systemic changes that will not jeopardize the economy or environment with materials such as pizza boxes.


Can Greasy Pizza Boxes Be Composted?

1. YES: greasy pizza boxes should not be recycled and might not be a good idea to reuse. However, composting is an acceptable option. All you need to do is break up the box into smaller pieces, especially the greasy pieces of the cardboard.

Then, you will create a base layer with your carbon-based cardboard pieces, followed by nitrogen-rich materials and finally topsoil. Then, from there, you will be turning your compost pile regularly, like after a few days, to improve the rate of decomposition.

2. NO: although greasy pizza boxes are compostable, do not compost greasy frozen pizza boxes. As already mentioned, frozen pizza boxes are made using a layer of plastic and the plastic will not help you in achieving the correct result of your compost. Instead, talk to your local hauler and ask them if they accept poly-coated paperboards, such as those that make frozen pizza boxes.

What Can I Do with Empty Pizza Boxes?

1. Throw it Away in a Responsible and Environmentally Sensible Manner

This is not the desired solution for the environmentally-conscious. However, it requires the least amount of effort in comparison to all other options. If you choose to throw away an empty pizza box, hope that it will be used by another person or agency, otherwise, it will continue to pollute the environment, only that it will not be polluting your place. When throwing it away, ensure you clean the box thoroughly and consider disposing it of in a manner that can easily be recycled by designated recycling companies or agencies.

2. Reuse Them

Empty pizza boxes that have been cleaned, can be reused for other purposes, such as in crafting with children. They are rarely used in such a manner, but one can opt to do so rather than going for other crafting options from the store.

3. Reuse Them With Homemade Pizza

You can also place homemade pizza on clean pizza boxes and have them serve you more. Eventually, you will discard them, so this is not going to be a lasting option

4. Recycle Them

Pizza boxes are made with recyclable materials. Therefore, clean them and drop them at your nearest recyclable bin and they will be put to good use once again.

5. Compost Them

It is the last option, especially for the greasy pizza boxes. Break them into small pieces, especially the greasy parts, bur them with nitrogen-rich materials and topsoil, and then turn them every few days. After several months, you will have garden-ready compost, made from pizza boxes.

How Long Does It Take for A Pizza Box to Decompose?

Decomposing a pizza box depends on several factors. When done properly and done under the ideal conditions, a cardboard pizza box can take approximately 90 days to biodegrade or decompose.

In inhospitable conditions, like the pieces being removed from the soil or stacked tightly in sheets with little surface exposed to the elements, they can remain undecomposed for years. In typical garden conditions, when the cardboard is used as mulch or is shredded and soaked as it should, biodegradation can occur quickly and the majority of the cardboard will be broken down within about three months.


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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.