You can recycle used pizza boxes! There’s been a lot off mixed messaging about this so it’s time to clean up the confusion. Bottom line is that you may recycle corrugated pizza boxes even if they’re soiled with cheese and grease. All you have to do is empty out any leftover crusts and you can safely recycle your pizza boxes.
As holder of the Guinness World Record for largest collection of pizza boxes, people ask me about this all the time. I even dedicate a page in my book, Viva La Pizza: The Art of the Pizza Box, to explaining the recyclability issue. I’ve always advised cutting out greasy and cheesy sections of their boxes before putting them into the bin but most people aren’t going to go through the effort. Thankfully, a recent study proves that grease and cheese aren’t as prohibitive as once thought!
WestRock is the biggest pizza box manufacturer in the U.S. They sponsored a study in 2020 that concluded even soiled pizza boxes are safe to recycle. The American Forest & Paper Association stands behind the study. AF&PA members representing 94% of American OCC (old corrugated container) consumption accept used pizza boxes. Domino’s, which purchases most of their pizza boxes from WestRock, even launched a page on their website with information about the study.
Pratt Industries is a huge pizza box manufacturer that makes 100% recycled boxes. They’ve launched a video campaign to educate the public about pizza box recyclability. Companies like Pratt and WestRock manufacture their own paper, so they want to reclaim as much as possible through the recycling stream.
If paper processors are able to accept used pizza boxes, what’s causing so much confusion? Lots of municipalities provide outdated guidance because the carting companies they work with have yet to update their own. Only 21% of municipalities explicitly accept used pizza boxes. About 12% of municipalities explicitly prohibit the collection of used pizza boxes. It’s all because of a communication issue. Here’s the source for pizza box recycling stats.
It’s a little frustrating that WestRock’s study only applies to corrugated pizza boxes and not coated paperboard boxes. Corrugated boxes are the rigid packages made from three layers of paper glued together. These stack better and retain heat better than paperboard boxes, which are made from only a single sheet of paper. Fortunately, the vast majority of pizza boxes you interact with will be corrugated.
There’s no good reason to send used pizza boxes to landfills. Check your own municipality’s policy by looking up your zip code on WestRock‘s website. If your area doesn’t explicitly accept used pizza boxes into the recycling stream, send your local representatives this study. All we need to do is educate the carters and municipalities about the reality of OCC processing and we’ll be set!
Pizza Box Stats
- America uses 3 billion pizza boxes annually
- Pizza boxes account for 600,000 tons of corrugated material
- Americans will order 12.5 million pizzas on Superbowl Sunday
- Pizza boxes represent 1.7% of the 35.9 million tons of corrugated boxes produced in the U.S. annually
- Only 21% of municipalities explicitly accept used pizza boxes into the recycling stream, although 100% should
- American pizza boxes are typically 2-2.5 inches tall while European boxes tend to be shorter