The Great Pizza Box Mystery: Recycle or Not?

posted 11/2/2016

It's a large, flat cardboard surface – should be a recycling no-brainer, right? The short answer is no; you can't recycle a pizza box. What makes them non-recyclable is the hot, tasty treat that comes inside, specifically, the grease and cheese that contaminates the cardboard.

So there you have it, pizza boxes tarnished with food, or ANY paper product stained with grease or food, are not recyclable. But why?

Pizza Box Recycling Mystery Explained

Food is one of the worst contaminants in the paper recycling process. Grease and oil are not a big deal when recycling plastic, metal or glass, as those materials are recycled using a heat process. But when paper products, like cardboard, are recycled, they are mixed with water and turned into a paper slurry (semiliquid). Since we all know water and oil don’t mix, the issue is clear.

Grease from pizza boxes causes oil to form on the top of the slurry, and paper fibers cannot separate from oils during the pulping process. The result is seriously flawed paper that contains holes and other defects. One pizza box can ruin the entire batch of paper.

Know the Facts

Many people throw pizza boxes in their recycling carts thinking they are doing the responsible thing. In reality, this does so much more harm than good since. contamination in the recycling business is a huge problem. Some estimates put the costs of accidental contamination in the neighborhood of $700 million per year industry-wide. It’s always smart to check  an item if you don’t know whether it is recyclable or not – and it is easy with our Recycling & Disposal Guide.

So, What Do I Do?

To be on the safe side, it’s best to toss your entire pizza box into the trash. However, if you are absolutely certain the pizza box lid is grease-free, you can tear it off, recycle it, then throw away the bottom part containing the grease with a guilt-free conscience. And the absolute best solution to the pizza box mystery? Skip the box altogether by making your own pizza! Tastes better, is probably cheaper and you have nothing to throw away after the pizza is gobbled up!

For more information about safe, smart disposal and recycling options, visit or call 515.244.0021.