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Can I Recycle a Pizza Box?

November 1st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Issue at Hand: Over 1 billion pizzas are delivered every year, while over 11.5 million pizzas are sold every day in this country.

So Can We Recycle Pizza Boxes or Not?

The problem with recycling pizza boxes is the food, cheese and grease that both sticks to the insides of the cardboard box and the oils that permeate the fibers of the paper cardboard. In a nutshell, fiber in food is fine, but food on fiber that is due to be recycled is not! Paper fibers in the recycling bin are actually not recyclable if they have any food contamination on them.

Many recyclers will opt to take a pizza box that is still relatively clean, meaning very minimal or no grease stains at all. If cheese from the pizza has gotten stuck to the box lid, but the bottom of the box is still clean, then consider going the extra little bit of distance, removing the top half, and still recycling the bottom, clean half. Then, you can either discard the dirty box top in the trash, or consider composting it. For boxes with pizza crumbs and maybe a little bit of tomato sauce, consider wiping the insides clean and then recycling it.

What Are the Reasons Behind Not Recycling Pizza Boxes?

Remember, as long as pizza boxes are entirely clean and not soaked with cheese, grease or oils, they can be recycled along with other paper and cardboard. When the pizza boxes become overly saturated with oil and grease, the basic process of recycling fibrous materials is rendered useless, as the paper fibers themselves cannot be separated from the grease and oils.

What you may not know is that paper products are recycled in a process that employs water to do the dirty work. The oil and grease found in paper containers like pizza boxes or other food cartons gets into the water mixture during the recycling process and basically ruins the batch being worked on. As the oil separates and refuses to mix with the water, it gets in the way when in later stages, the mashed up mixture of paper and cardboard needs to be reformed to make recycled paper products.

Other Options for Recycling Pizza Boxes

Dirty, grease-stained pizza boxes need not spell gloom and doom for recycle die-hards. Maybe it’s time to consider creating a composting bin in the yard, or finding a neighbor who has one going, and offering to pile on some goodies in their sustainable efforts.

Composting benefits the environment by creating new soil that is rich in minerals, while simultaneously reducing drastically the amount of material introduces into America’s landfills. Remember the numbers noted above for annual pizza consumption were over a billion! And further, concerning city and urban living when it comes to going green, you can keep a small composting station underneath your kitchen sink — it’s not just a backyard thing.

When you think composting, the very basics come down to two color groups: green and brown. The brown is made up of paper products (napkins, towels — all of which can be food-soaked), eggshells, pizza boxes, old dried plants or flowers. So there is the option for your pizza box refuse. The green half of composting includes vegetable skins, fruit peels, leaves and plant matter. The hands-on part of composting simply involves rotating the two halves, which need to be maintained in equal portions to each other, continually allowing air to enter the mixture. Remember to scrape the cheese off of the pizza box before throwing it on the compost pile.

When you compost things like pizza boxes, some experts claim that the grease rule still applies here. Grease and oils may cause excess rotting, which can lead to extra bugs and smells. Just a thought.

How Pizza Boxes, Food Containers and Paper Products Get Recycled

While grease from food doesn’t tend to contaminate the recycling process when it comes to metals, glass and plastic, food does present serious problems by way of contaminating paper recycling. The slurry that is created when recycling paper and cardboard is formed through mixing the recycled objects with water.

And water just doesn’t mix with oil and grease from food, which rises to the top of the slurry mixture. When this occurs, which it inevitably does when food grease is introduced into the process, then the various paper and cardboard fibers cannot properly be separated during the pulping process. The entire batch is contaminated and cannot (ever!) be recycled. The grease and oil on the pizza box makes difficulties in the binding of the fibers, adding contaminants — when the water is eventually squeezed back out of the pulp, the oil creates holes and spots that render the paper quality severely poor or unusable.

It stands to reason, then, that paper food products like napkins, paper towels and paper plates also should not be thrown in with the recycling. And if you do dispose of the “clean” sections of your pizza boxes, remember to remove any stickers or coupons, whose adhesives also contaminate the recycling mix.

The Size of the Problem When Pizza Boxes Are “Recycled”

So, with millions of pizzas being ordered through delivery every year, one can only imagine the extent of the problem when someone unknowingly discards used pizza boxes in the recycling bin. As noted earlier, the grease and oil essentially ruin the entire batch of recycled paper. Within the recycling industry, it has been noted that contaminated recycled paper batches cost businesses as much as seven hundred million dollars annually. In addition to the batches of paper that are ruined by errant food and grease, machines also suffer damage and require maintenance or replacement.

A big thanks to Matty Byloos for this article, it may also be viewed on EasyWaysToGoGreen.com

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