Are Pizza Boxes Compostable? Recyclable?

Pizza with compostable biodegradable cardboard
Photo by nrd on Unsplash

Are pizza boxes compostable in your backyard bin? How about the simpler option, throwing it in the recycling bin? The answers are yes, but with caveats.

Pizza is easy to get – all it takes is a few quick clicks or a phone call, and you’ll have that hot, steamy, cheesy perfection at your door in less than an hour. However, after you take that last bite of the final slice, you’re often left with greasy pizza box that’s big, bulky, and doesn’t come with disposal instructions. 

Though pizza is easy to get, it’s difficult to dispose of. Keep reading to find the ultimate solution to your pizza box disposal woes.

Recycling Pizza Boxes 

According to WestRock, a large paper and packaging company, 3 billion pizza boxes are sold every year in the United States, weighing 600,000 tons. If recycled, they would make up about 2.6% of the recycled cardboard in the US each year. 

Unfortunately, whether pizza boxes are recyclable gets nuanced quickly. To make matters worse, there is no set rule on whether plants will or won’t accept pizza boxes. The answer of whether you can recycle pizza boxes can vary from city to city. Its confusing and leaves all of us wondering if we’re doing the right thing.

At their core, pizza boxes are recyclable. Corrugated cardboard has an average recovery rate for recycling of 92%, and pizza boxes are made from the same material, so one would think that recycling is a no-brainer. However, recycling plants have expressed concern over the food waste that gets left on pizza boxes. 

That clump of cheese that dried on the bottom? That makes pizza boxes hard to recycle. The grease stain that reminds you of the glorious food you just enjoyed? Also a problem. 

If you remove the portions of the box that have food remnants, you can recycle the rest of the pizza box. If you plan on recycling, removing food-contaminated pieces is a fool-proof way to recycle it. This ensures your pizza box won’t cause contamination issues at the recycling plant.

You don’t want to be the cause of an entire batch of recyclable material to be thrown in a landfill!

Guidance on Recycling Pizza Boxes is Changing

are pizza boxes recyclable? Made of biodegradable cardboard
Photo by Mateusz Feliksik on Unsplash

Recently, large pizza chains like Dominos have invested in studies to see if food contamination is truly as harmful to the recycling process as many plants claim.

Partnering with WestRock, they found that leftover cheese and grease are actually not all that harmful to the recycling process. 

For now, as confusing as it may be, try to look into what your city’s guidance is and follow that. Or, to be safe, separate the contaminated pieces of the box prior to recycling.

Are Pizza Boxes Compostable?

If recycling feels confusing, frustrating, or unclear, there’s another way to dispose of your pizza boxes that’s straightforward: composting! If you are a regular reader of R&R, you know we love composting despite some of the challenges you can run into

Pizza boxes are generally made of biodegradable cardboard. By removing the greasy stains and cheese, you won’t cause any negative impact during the composting process.

Composting actually requires a 30:1 ratio of carbon-rich to nitrogen-rich materials. This means that for every vegetable you throw in, you’ll need a large amount of carbon rich materials.

The good news is, you can use stacks of shredded paper or cardboard to avoid slimy, smelly compost. In fact, cardboard has an amazing carbon to nitrogen ratio – 560:1 ratio (the most carbon rich material listed on Cornell University’s very helpful composting guide).

By composting pizza boxes, you can supercharge your composting process and keep it balanced. You will need to shred or break the cardboard into smaller pieces.

You can tear up the pizza boxes by hand (or any cardboard boxes), but I recommend enlisting an assist from the right type of shredder. This is also a great solution for all that unrecyclable shredded junk mail or bank statements (read here about how to repurpose all your junk mail to supercharge your compost process).

If you don’t eat enough pizza to cover the 30:1 ratio needed, take a look at using compostable paper towels as another carbon source for your compost bin.

Pizza boxes are the perfect compost addition. Needing more cardboard in your compost bin is a great excuse to order a pie. Enjoy the pizza, shred or tear the biodegradable cardboard into small pieces. Toss them into your compost bin, and forget about it.

“Wishcycling” and Recycling’s Complicated Past

We know you have heard of “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” This slogan encourages consumers to be more mindful about how they consume and how they dispose of things.

But the recycling process is far from perfect and you’ve probably fell victim to “wishcycling,” a common pitfall. 

“Wishcycling” is the practice of recycling more things than can actually be recycled, in hopes that they will be recycled properly. However, this overzealous practice of recycling can cause more damage in the long run. “Wishcycling” leads to batches of recycling to go to waste in a landfill.

It’s critical to do your research when it comes to recycling in your area. The process isn’t perfect, and it varies across the country. If you take a few minutes to research the recycling rules in your town, you can help combat “wishcycling.”

For a more in-depth explanation surrounding the pros and cons of recycling, spend a few minutes reading this article about how recycling is at least partially a corporate scam job preying on our collective guilt. But don’t fret, it is still good for the environment!.

Though recycling is imperfect, it’s still better for the environment than landfills. Not only does recycling save energy and water, but recycling paper keeps it from ending up in landfills, where it will create methane gas.

Methane is exponentially more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide – 34 times more harmful, in fact! Through recycling, we see the emergence of incredible products like this pizza box, which is made of recycled cardboard.

Pizza Box: Recycle or Compost?

Photo by simon peel on Unsplash

When you ask: are pizza boxes compostable or recyclable, there is a 3rd question that comes to mind. Which is better for the environment – composting or recycling pizza boxes?

The short answer is whichever one you can do consistently. We know 60-70% of paper and cardboard gets recycled, which is a pretty good rate as far as recycling goes. However, everything that ends up in compost ends up getting disposed of properly; that’s a 30-40% higher success rate!

If you compost in your backyard or municipal composting is available to you, it’s a no-brainer for your pizza boxes.

Composting after Pizza Fridays will serve as another reason to keep your tradition going. Your love for pizza is earth-approved if you properly dispose of the waste. 

If composting isn’t available to you, or you just don’t have the energy to shred the pizza box, recycling is a great next-best option.

The main thing to remember is: make sure your pizza boxes does not find a home in a landfill or incinerated. If you can commit to recycling or composting pizza boxes, you’re joining the fight to save our planet, a huge win for everyone!

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