In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, My friend posted an article on Facebook that says greasy pizza boxes can now be recycled, but I was told they belong in the trash. What’s the deal, are greasy pizza boxes recyclable?

To start, let’s get one thing straight – in Summit County, greasy pizza boxes belong in the trash.

This question gets asked a lot because cardboard pizza boxes are everywhere. Approximately 3 billion pizza boxes are sold in the United States annually. Altogether, they weigh 600,000 tons—the equivalent of 2,667 Statue of Libertys. If they were all recycled, they would account for 2.6 percent of the recyclable cardboard generated in the US annually.

I enjoy my fair share of pizza after playing in the mountains all day and I’m sure you do as well. So it’s important that we dispose of our used pizza boxes properly. Let me clarify why recycling pizza boxes can be so complicated.

Check local recycling guidelines

Every community is different when it comes to recycling guidelines. Materials that one community can recycle another community might landfill based on their accessibility to infrastructure and companies that purchase recycled material. Never assume that just because something can be recycled in one zip code that it is the same even in the next zip code over.

Here in Summit County our recycling experts still ask that we keep any greasy part of those pizza boxes out of the recycling bins. But don’t be discouraged there is still a way to recycle the remnants of your Saturday night party without contaminating the other recycling.

Simply empty your pizza boxes of any crumbs, crust, cheese, and toppings and cut out any greasy spots with scissors. This will leave you with clean cardboard that can be recycled. To find more info on local recycling guidelines, visit HighCountryConservation.org, and use the Rocky tool to search for specific items.

Remember, recycling is a business

Consider for a moment the cardboard bin at one of our local recycling centers. When those bins fill up, they get trucked over to the SCRAP, or the Summit County Resource Allocation Park. There, the cardboard gets smashed into a bale, similar to a hay bale but with cardboard, which is then sold. The bale is transported to a facility that makes new cereal boxes, paper towels, or even new pizza boxes.

Do you think the folks making paper towels want a bunch of cheese, grease, or other kinds of trash in their cardboard? Nope. They expect clean materials, otherwise, they can’t use it. That’s why too much food, grease, or other trash in the recycling can cause everything to end up in the landfill.

As technology advances and a new pizza box maker in a far-away city figure out how to remove cheese and grease from pizza boxes, rules in that one community may change. However, it’s not always practical – or environmentally responsible – to transport loads of recycling across the country to get your greasy pizza box to the one facility that’s figured it all out.

So where does this leave us? Here in Summit County, greasy pizza boxes belong in the trash. And next time your friend posts the latest news from their town, it’s part of our responsibility to relearn local guidelines.

An easy and fun way to remind yourself before tossing something in the recycling is: when in doubt, search it out. I’m talking about the Rocky search tool on HighCountryConservation.org. Mind what you learn on Rocky, and you’ll keep our recycling clean and valuable.

A piece of the pie

When the day is done and the pie is polished off, keep this in mind: protecting our Earth’s resources requires more than properly recycling a pizza box.

It is also important to look at what we are buying. Reduce your impact by choosing reusables over single-use products, bringing your own leftover containers when dining at restaurants, and heck, even making your own pizza when you can.

As far as your friend’s Facebook post, it’s more important than ever to scrutinize and fact check what we read and watch online. Whether it’s pizza or politics, keep doing your part and dig a little deeper.


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  • Lily Gardner

    That’s a great article for food packaging boxes.

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