Many pizza delivery companies will claim their pizza boxes are 100% recyclable, which isn’t always going to be completely true.
There is a general misconception that because they’re made of cardboard, pizza boxes can automatically be tossed into the recycling bin and made into nice, new products. But that’s only partly correct. Cardboard used for pizza boxes is often spoiled by grease residue. That’s not to mention the scraps of melted cheese, tomato and toppings, all of which makes it no good – and potentially really damaging – for recycling.
In 2019, it was found that UK councils dumped or incinerated nearly 500,000 tonnes of contaminated recycling in the previous 12 months alone – four percent of all recycling – according to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). All of this could have been made into something else had it been recycled correctly.
So, while it’s great more people are doing more recycling, it’s also important to really understand what can and can’t be recycled.
In fact, recent research by takeaway company Deliveroo found that while 73% of respondents said they believed themselves to be well informed about recycling, 58% of these didn’t know that pizza boxes with food or grease left in them could not be recycled.
Why might pizza boxes contaminate recycling?
We all enjoy tucking into a delicious takeaway pizza. Part of the delight is peeling the gooey slices away from the box and collecting up all the little scrummy bits that fall off. But herein lies the problem when it comes to recycling.
The grease and food residue left behind on the cardboard can ruin a whole batch of recycling or end up sent to an incinerator or landfill.
Not only does effective recycling prevent this, but manufacturing future products from recycled cardboard uses around 25% less energy than manufacturing new cardboard.
Fortunately, advanced recycling practices mean pizza boxes can successfully be removed of ink, glue, staples, plastic film and sticky tape without too much of a problem. But the molecular structure of the grease on pizza boxes means the oil is a different story.
When it comes to items like glass jars, metal tins or plastic tubs, the heat used when recycling means excess food is often burned off, so isn’t a problem. But that’s not the case when it comes to paper and cardboard recycling.
When this is recycled, it gets finely shredded and mixed with water and chemicals to form a pulp. As the grease clings to anything it comes into contact with, it gets mixed with the pulp and reduces the quality.
This ultimately makes whatever it is going to be manufactured into – be it more cardboard, or paper for magazines or newspapers – practically useless. Grease can ruin an entire batch of recycling. The oil can also be damaging to the equipment and machinery used in recycling processes. As it can’t be easily broken down, it can end up building to damaging levels.
What happens to contaminated recycling?
As mentioned previously, contaminated recycling will often be sent to landfill or incinerated – and this can add up to hundreds of thousands of tonnes a year, which otherwise could have been recycled. Not only does this defeat the object of recycling, but it costs councils a lot of money.
When a lorry collects household recycling bins, streets worth of items will be mixed together. So, while you may diligently wash out margarine tubs and correctly recycle your pizza boxes, your neighbour may not. Enough contamination within a lorry’s collection may mean the whole load had to be disposed of in a non-eco-friendly manner.
Alternatively, if there are lower levels of contamination, the collection may still be accepted by sorting plants, but the staff will then have to manually sort through every item by hand. Not a pleasant or time-effective job for anyone.
How can you help at home?
Don’t worry, all is not lost. Luckily there are a couple of things you can do to help when recycling your pizza boxes.
In all likelihood, the lid of the pizza box will be completely fine to recycle, so you can go ahead with that. Simply tear it off and add it to your paper and card collection.
For the base of the box, firstly, pick off any excess food (bonus – you get to eat this!). This will make it easier to assess how much grease is left on the cardboard itself. A little bit is ok, and you can help even more by soaking up a bit of the excess with some kitchen towel. If there’s a lot of grease left behind, then it’s best not to recycle. Instead, it can be torn into small chunks for composting.
How can your business help?
Alternatively, if you are buying pizza boxes for your business, look to purchases ones that are fully compostable.
Fortunately, at Simply Eco Packaging, all the pizza boxes we sell meet that criteria. They provide fantastic environmentally-friendly options for businesses, whether you run a takeaway restaurant, fast-food outlet, kiosk or mobile pizza van.
By ensuring cardboard is compostable, there are no concerns over contamination from grease or food waste. And our boxes are also suitable for both commercial composting and composting at home, for complete convenience.
The only step to take now is to educate customers to understand the best way to dispose of their used boxes.