Can Greasy Pizza Boxes Be Recycled or Not?

A new study backed by Domino's says recycling centers that don't accept pizza boxes should reconsider.

If you're like me, you probably have at least one empty pizza box wedged on top of the trash can, just waiting to get tossed out. But Domino's has a new campaign to let everyone know that, despite what we might have previously heard, those empty boxes should actually be shoved into our recycle bins instead.

The pizza giant has recently launched a new website to remind everyone that pizza boxes really can be recycled. "There is great inconsistency and confusion regarding the recyclability of pizza boxes. Pizza boxes are technically recyclable," it writes. "They are made from the same material as a corrugated [cardboard] box, which has an average recovery rate for recycling of 92 [percent]. However, in the past, some paper mills and others in the recycling industry have expressed concerns about accepting them because of fear of food contamination."

A greasy box of pizza
Thomas Trutschel / Contributor/Getty Images

Domino's says that the reason why so many boxes go unrecycled is that almost three-quarters (73 percent) of community recycling programs throughout the United States aren't clear about whether pizza boxes actually can be recycled with other cardboard products. Those "mixed messages" mean that a lot of boxes get trashed instead.

"Because nearly everything that leaves a Domino's store leaves in a corrugated box, we know we have an opportunity to make a difference when it comes to packaging and recycling," Tim McIntyre, Domino's executive vice president of communications, said in a statement. "Our goal is that our customers will set aside any misconceptions they have around the recyclability of pizza boxes, read the facts and put their empty box in the recycling bin."

As part of its push to put more empties in more recycle bins, Domino's partnered with its primary box supplier, WestRock, to commission a study into the recyclability of even the greasiest, cheesiest boxes. (This research also required WestRock workers to dig around at recycling facilities, pulling pizza boxes out of the rubbish piles, and photographing them to determine exactly how much food residue was left behind.) They ultimately discovered that neither grease nor "small amounts of cheese" would have a negative effect on the recyclability of the cardboard, nor on the products that were created from that material.

"We proved that the grease and cheese residuals, at the levels that are typically found in a pizza box, can make it through the recycling stream with no issue, and [...] there’s no issues with the paper after we recycle the boxes,” Jeff Chalovich, WestRock's chief commercial officer and president of corrugated packaging, told Fast Company.

Before you decide which bin to put that Domino's box in, though, it's worth checking with your local recycling center to see whether it accepts pizza boxes or not. (My neighborhood recycling center specifically says "No pizza boxes.") Domino's has prepared for that possibility, and it suggests that you call those facilities, tell them that the boxes are "technically recyclable," and then ask them to consider adding pizza boxes to their list for acceptable collections.

And hopefully, knowing that your empty boxes can be recycled is going to make that next slice of pepperoni pie taste even better.

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