Can pizza boxes be recycled? The REAL answer!

It’s somewhat bizarre that this post follows my recent post about the psychology of food and how organic and healthy foods can psycholzza-boxogically help us feel better, but seriously… we all splurge and occasionally eat the bad stuff too.  Show me one person who doesn’t and I’ll show you a hundred who DO!

Anyhow, I often find myself frustrated with the inaccurate information about what can be recycled and what cannot.  Pizza boxes are a prime example because I’ve seen them listed on far too many “recyclable lists” without clear explanations.

Most are made of corrugated cardboard… a material that is normally recyclable, but I want to clear up this misconception…


There are exceptions to this rule, so here is the 411 on pizza boxes.  As soon as foods (especially oils, cheese, etc.) absorb into this cardboard it become UNRECYCLABLE.  If recycled, the paper fibers will not be able to separate from the oils during pulping and a tainted pizza box can actually ruin an entire batch of paper during this process.  If some parts, like the lid, don’t have any oil or food on it, tear it off and recycle it, but if it’s dirty, forget it… and toss it in the trash.

This also holds true for any paper products that have been soiled by food… paper plates, napkins, paper towels, etc.  If your rationale is that these items will be weeded out before recycling just remember that they can cross-contaminate a lot of paper around them while they wait to be recycled, so you are also ruining a bunch of otherwise recyclable materials.

While I’m on this pizza box kick, check out this nifty creation from e.c.o. Incorporated.  It actually turns your pizza box into your plates and storage container.

It’s Friday… so after you take a break from a week full of cooking and call your local pizza joint, remember the real answer for recycling the box:  your recycle bin and all the other papers inside say “no thanks”!

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11 thoughts on “Can pizza boxes be recycled? The REAL answer!

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I wish pizza wasn’t so delicious but it is! We can’t help but order it when we are tired at the end of the week and no one wants to cook. I know plates have to be thrown away with food on them and such but I am guily of overlooking the pizza box. Thanks for making me more aware.

  2. Yes BUT . . .

    you can compost them. Of course, this only works if you have access to an industrial composter. I’m lucky enough to live in a city that collects food scraps (including used paper towels, paper napkins and YES pizza boxes) to be turned into compost.

  3. Our city (Cambridge MA) just made a big deal about moving pizza boxes from the can’t be recycled list to the list of what to include with paper. DH has made a habit of tearing off the clean cardboard and recycling that. I wonder if there’s another method our city is using now since they made such a big deal about adding pizza boxes to the recycling list.

    If they are compostable industrially, Whole Foods will take compostables so that’s an option for anyone who lives near a Whole Foods.

  4. Christine – You bet! Glad this helped!

    Green Bean – absolutely right! They can be composed and I understand that, if torn into small pieces, this can actually be done in backyard composters too! … a lot of work to shred a pizza box, but worth it? Yes!

    Jamie – thanks for the heads up on Whole Foods. And I guess a city’s decision on whether or not to accept pizza boxes would have a lot to do with the resources (ie. manpower) to thoroughly sort through the recyclables they receive. I just wonder how they handle the cross contamination when these pizza boxes (with some parts soiled) come in contact with other paper while they wait to be recycled? Seems like much more paper would be affected.

  5. Lisa – absolutely… recycle every part you can! We don’t often order pizza “in” either, but when we do, I also “make the best of recycling” on the parts I can! 🙂

  6. Pingback: » Things you should know about recycling paper. - Mom Goes Green

  7. The video re. the Green pizza box was confusing after reading your post about pizza boxes. They mention that the storage container made from the pizza box can be easily recycled. I’m wondering if different cities have different ways of recycling, so that some cities, like Cambridge, can recycle soiled pizza boxes whereas others can’t.

  8. Havely – the issue is the “soiled” part… anything that has grease on it from the pizza should be tossed away (it can ruin an entire batch of recycled paper because of the grease). Anything that is NOT soiled CAN be recycled. It may require tearing up the box a bit, but that’s okay… right? 🙂 Hope that clears up the confusion!

  9. It still doesn’t make any sense. Based on the video, no part of his “green” box remains unsoiled. He takes a box that originally could have at least had its top recycled, but now he’s used the clean top part as plates which renders them un-recyclable. The bottom part, which one has to assume is already soiled, he claims to be recyclable. Sorry, it still doesn’t add up. The question that perhaps some municipalities, like Cambridge, may be able to handle soiled pizza boxes, especially if they don’t give any instructions about specific parts of the pizza box, remains, at least based on the video.

  10. Havenly – yes, I can understand where the video is confusing. They should clearly say that HEAVILY soiled corrigated cardboard should NOT be recycled. I haven never heard of an instance where HEAVILY soiled paper should be recycled. Every fact I have found says that this grease can ruin the paper. I think they could have made it clearer but, like with any product, I guess you need to read between the lines too. Yes, the pizza box IS recyclable… IF it is not heavily soiled. If there are a few spots of grease, I’m sure it is fine, so the degree of soilage is the key. I guess I can only suggest that you contact your municipality and see what they have to say. But regardless of any product, if it has food particles all over it, do not attempt to recycle.

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