Can you recycle pizza boxes?
Pizza boxes. They’re cardboard, so they’re recyclable, right? Well, that’s only partially true, and despite what some reports would have you believe, you can recycle plenty of pizza boxes.
Takeaway pizza boxes are indeed cardboard, an almost universally recycled material. The problem with putting used ones in the recycling bin is that a greasy residue often clings to the corrugated card packaging.
This oil causes severe issues during the recycling process.
Plants reject tonnes of otherwise acceptable cardboard each year because of contamination with too much grease. Rather than being converted back into another useful resource, it often ends up being incinerated or piled onto the nearest landfill. This is a fate we are keen to avoid.
Recycled cardboard only consumes around 75% of the energy used to manufacture new cardboard from virgin pulp.
How do pizza boxes get recycled?
The mechanics behind it are quite simple. Once a batch of cardboard reaches a recycling plant or materials recovery facility, it is shredded and mixed with a solution of water, detergent, and bleaching agents to make a pulp. This can form dozens of new paper products, from newspapers and magazines to fresh cardboard boxes.
The technology exists to remove ink, staples and even sticky tape without too much of an issue.
However, oils are a much trickier problem to solve. The molecular structure of grease means it coats and clings to practically everything it encounters. This makes the strands of recoverable fibres much shorter than they would be otherwise, reducing the quality of any recycled paper so that it becomes practically useless.
It also has a detrimental effect on the equipment used during the process. As paper recycling uses cold water rather than hot, the grease is difficult to break down, and can build up to unmanageable levels.
This doesn’t mean your takeaway pizza box’s destiny is in the bin, though.
Remove all the food
The easiest way to assess how severely affected your pizza box is, is to pick out any clumps of cheese or other toppings, which have fallen off the pizza. Finding these bonus nibbles is a tough job, but it needs doing.
From here, you’ll be able to make a swift judgement whether your pizza box will pass the grade. A small amount of oil, while not ideal, won’t be a problem – just try to soak up any excess with a napkin or kitchen towel. Make sure you don’t leave any crusts inside, either. They can go straight into your food waste bin if you don’t want to eat them.
If it’s swimming in grease, though, things aren’t looking too good from a recycling collection point of view. Rather than throwing it out, you can still tear the box into small pieces and put them into a compost bin. Remember, cardboard is 100% biodegradable.
Recycle the box lids
Even if the bottom of the pizza box isn’t recyclable, it doesn’t mean that the top section should suffer a similar fate.
Check the lid for any oily contamination, and if it’s mostly clear, then it’s ready to go onto your recycling pile. After all, a 50% recycling rate is better than nothing.
Something you may not have noticed on your takeaway boxes is that there should be two open holes on the rear-side panel of it. This helps to regulate the temperature of your pizza during transport. It also lets any condensation out, which would otherwise build up on the lid and make your food soggy.
Can you recycle supermarket pizza bozes?
Supermarket pizza boxes are a different beast altogether. The food is chilled or frozen and wrapped inside a plastic cover. This means the oils from the pizza don’t seep out onto the outer cardboard packaging.
The result of this is that pretty much all supermarket pizza boxes are recyclable. It’s best to check for any toppings which may have come loose; removing any plastic ‘windows’ will also help further down the line.