Can pizza boxes be recycled?

Pizza is delicious and convenient, it is no wonder that over 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, this also means we’re throwing out a lot of pizza boxes. 

Good news: Pizza boxes can be recycled.

Bad news: When it comes to recycling, greasy pizza boxes are the worst.

Due to leftovers and grease smudged all over these boxes, some of them may not get to the recycling process at all. However, if these pizza remains could be taken off from the cardboard, it has a high chance to be repurposed instead of being thrown straight to the landfills.

Paper Recycling Vs Pizza Box Recycling

Paper, being made from mostly organic materials, is supposed to be easily recyclable. However, it all depends on the process of how the paper product has been manufactured. 

In the case of pizza boxes, paper does not get heated during the recycling process. But because pizza boxes are often smothered in oil and grease, it becomes more complex.

How are pizza boxes recycled?

Once in the recycling facility, paper and cardboard are separated according to grade and type, after which they move onto the paper mill. They may spend weeks in storage and then cleaned with soapy water. This process will most likely remove inks, plastic film, staples and glue. 

The batch is placed in a large receptacle and then mixed with water to build a slurry. When recycled, pizza boxes are repurposed into another batch of pizza boxes, table napkins, and paper towels.

The problem with pizza boxes

Pizza boxes are one top most common offenders when it comes to contamination. The problem is that oil often goes into cardboard, the oil cannot be removed from the fiber, making that material less valuable, and less marketable to buyers. 

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This doesn’t mean the pizza boxes are not recyclable. They still are, but take more work because of the unavoidable grease.

This is also why there are recycling facilities asking waste management not to include pizza boxes. The same is true for other grease-soaked paper. 

The best way to make sure your pizza box gets recycled is to rip off the non-oily side before sending it over to recycling centers.

The recyclability of pizza boxes

As long as the box is clean and not as oily, pizza boxes are highly recyclable. This is because they are usually produced from corrugated cardboard which is recyclable. 

However, a high percentage of pizza boxes are not only smeared with grease, but also have leftovers attached to them. Grease hampers recycling processes as it prevents paper fibers from binding during the recycling stage. This results in a poor quality paper product. If recycling produces low quality materials, the energy used on it is also considered a waste.

The same scenario also happens when paper plates and used paper napkins are recycled.

Once a recyclable load is contaminated with grease from pizza boxes, the whole load will be sent to landfill. This heightens the risk of unsuccessful recycling.

The best way to recycle pizza boxes is to remove the leftover food from both sides of the box before recycling. In the case of heavily greased cardboards, they can be cut off and put straight in the trash so they don’t contaminate the rest of your boxes. 

Common questions on recycling pizza boxes

Can pizza boxes be composted?

Yes. Composting is a popular alternative to pizza box recycling. In this process, the box, along with the paper napkins, cheese and leftover foods can be tossed directly in the pit.

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Then again, experts warn that grease from pizza boxes can also be detrimental to the composting process. It is highly possible that the smell could invite mammals, bugs and other insects.

To compost a pizza box, all you need to do is cut it into small pieces and bring it to your waste compost bin. Unlike recycling, food grease – ridden paper items are compostable and will break down in a long way process.

Are soiled pizza boxes recyclable?

No. Grease and leftover food on boxes interfere with the recycling process. Consider ripping the greasy side of the box if you want to recycle your pizza boxes. That way, you can still lessen the amount of trash you have in the bin.

What things cannot be recycled?

Things made of certain types of plastic cannot be recycled. This includes hangers, PVC pipes and hoses, bubble wraps, dishes, and electric cords. Styrofoam, aerosol cans, batteries, and mirrors are also non-recyclable.

The introduction of the waste segregation concept has drastically improved how trash is being managed. This paved the way for recycling to be a norm, despite some materials not feasible to be recycled. In the case of pizza boxes, recycling is a little specialized and not as easy as for other paper products. However, that should not stop us from trying to recycle our garbage as much as we can.

Can pizza boxes be recycled?


We have to rethink how we are doing it all. It is important to consider our footprint! Susan has been writing on this blog since 2020, but it has been on her mind for a lot longer!

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