CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It's pizza night. Do you know where your used pizza boxes are?
It can be a contentious question given recycling facilities' attempts to remind users to avoid tossing food and certain plastic food containers into recycling bins.
So, some might respond: "In the trash."
Domino's hopes more customers start responding: "In the recycling bin."
"A lot of people have some confusing opinions on it," Jeannette Sharp, Domino's Community Relations manager, said. "But the box is made up of the same corrugated material that a lot of other boxes that are regularly recycled are."
The pizza chain recently sent out an email to customers letting them know they are free to give their pizza boxes new life, rather relegating them to a slow demise in the trash heap.
Can you recycle used pizza boxes?
Yes, you can recycle used pizza boxes, as long as there isn't too much grease or food residue on the box.
What We Found
WestRock, which supplies Domino's with its boxes, conducted a study on the grease content in pizza boxes and its effect on recyclability.
The company reports that in the U.S., 3 billion pizza boxes using 600,000 tons of corrugated board go out to consumers every year.
It also found grease, which is typical of used boxes, can diminish the strength of recycled fibers. WestRock states when a box reaches 20% grease, by weight, strength loss for fibers is significant. When grease content is under 10%, strength loss is low.
The study also found the average grease content of pizza boxes currently in the recycling stream is 1 to 2%, which is well below that threshold.
Sharp said most boxes should be good to go into the recycling bin, based on those anticipated levels of grease.
"It wouldn't be normal to receive a pizza box that's soaked with grease," Sharp said. "If you peel the cheese off of all of your pizza, and you leave it there, that's not an anticipated experience, right?"
Sharp also recommends people empty their pizza boxes before recycling.
"My own personal rule is, as long as the box isn't soaked through - which I've never received a pizza where it is - then it's good to recycle, and it won't contaminate the recycling," she said.
According to Domino's online recycling guidelines tool, customers can plug in their zip codes to find out whether their local facility expressly accepts pizza boxes.
Jeffrey Smithberger, Director of Mecklenburg County's Solid Waste program, said the Domino's tool is correct in showing the county accepts pizza boxes. However, he emphasizes the importance of removing food residue first.
"In the worst case scenario, tear the box in half, toss the contaminated side and recycle the 'good' side," Smithberger said, adding that any absorbent pad between the pizza and the box should be scrapped since it usually collects oils.
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