Here’s Why You Should Never Recycle Your Empty Pizza Boxes – The Cheat Sheet

In theory, recycling is a relatively straightforward concept. After all, knowing what bins to put your paper, plastic, and glass items in is all you have to worry about — right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In addition to putting your recyclables in the correct waste bins, knowing what types of recyclable materials can be recycled is a considerable part of our consumer responsibilities. Case in point: Many believe pizza boxes can are recyclable. However, that’s not entirely true.

Can pizza boxes be recycled?

Many of us have experienced the frustration that comes with breaking down large pizza boxes for them to fit into our recycling bins. And, we hate to break it to you, but those efforts are all for nothing. According to Stanford University, pizza boxes are not recyclable. “Pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, however the cardboard becomes soiled with grease, cheese, and other foods once the pizza has been placed in the box,” writes the university. “Once soiled, the paper cannot be recycled because the paper fibers will not be able to be separated from the oils during the pulping process,” they add. The university also pinpoints food contamination as ”a major source of contamination in paper recycling.”

Grease-soaked pizza boxes are not recyclable. | Artlite / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Unlike plastic and glass, pizza boxes — and other paper food containers — aren’t easily rinsed. Therefore they can’t be recycled. Not to mention: The breakdown process looks a bit different and is prone to contamination. Because recycled paper goods are mixed with water in a churner, any grease or oil from food ends up separating from the paper items. Although the separation seems like a sure fire way to remove the oil altogether, that is, unfortunately, not the case. Instead of lifting and separating from the paper fibers, the oil ends up mixing into the fibers. The result? New paper covered in oil splotches.

Because of this, most recycling facilities ask waste management not to even bother with pizza boxes. However, whether or not a pizza box can be recycled all depends on the city. For example, in New York City, some pizza boxes get greenlighted if they have a few crumbs or small grease stains. That said, a grease-soaked box is always a hard pass.

In addition to pizza boxes, other grease-soaked paper goods should steer clear of the recycling bin. This includes, like donut boxes and fast food bags.

How to get rid of pizza boxes

Throwing pizza boxes in the garbage isn’t the only way to dispose of them. | LeszekCzerwonka / iStock / Getty Images Plus

If you can’t recycle your used pizza box, how do you get rid of it? As we mentioned above, most pizza boxes have no business in the recycling bin. That said, there are a few eco-friendly ways to dispose of grease-soaked boxes. For the most part, the grease only makes its way to the bottom of the box — where the pizza once was — meaning you can tear off the top part of the box and place it in the recycling bin.

Are pizza boxes compostable?

Once you’ve recycled the top portion of your box, you can either throw it in the garbage or — even better — compost it. To compost a pizza box, all you need to do is break the box into small pieces and place it in your compost bin. Unlike recycling, food and grease-ridden paper items are compostable and will break down over time.

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