Are Pizza Boxes Recyclable?

Are Pizza Boxes Recyclable?
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This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on November 22, 2021.

Hey, friend! 
I hope your weekend was relaxing and refreshing and you’re getting ready for a long weekend ahead.

With this being Thanksgiving week and all, I feel like I should be talking this week about something related to sustainable holidays and the like, but instead, we’re gonna talk about pizza boxes.

Because last week, a friend forwarded me an Instagram Story from Domino’s Pizza that got me real fired up...

A Drop in the Ocean Shop Domino's Pizza Box Recycling Greenwashing

This was the ONLY story slide Dominos posted on the topic of recyclability, and it’s so freaking problematic.

Because if you remember last summer from our post on all things how to recycle right, grease and cheese ABSOLUTELY impact recyclability.

And when you visit this recycling page on Domino’s website, it straight-up says that most cities don’t accept pizza boxes because of grease and cheese. But let’s be real here… How many people are actually gonna click that link and read through all of the info on what makes or breaks pizza box recycling? Probably not a whole lot.

Here’s the problem.

Food residue is a major source of recycling contamination.

Contaminated recycling cannot be recycled into another new high-quality product, and can even contaminate other items in the recycling process, leading to less material actually recycled.

Domino’s website sites one study that was funded by their box manufacturer. Essentially, the study found that the average pizza box has about a 2-3% contamination rate, meaning 2-3% of a pizza box by weight typically has grease and/or cheese on it.

Now I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but let’s also consider the fact that China stopped accepting any recycling at all over a 1% contamination rate back in 2018. 

So, I mean, contamination is a real issue.

Especially when recycling guidelines are so specific to each municipality, for Domino’s to post just one slide on their IG claiming that pizza boxes are recyclable without any further insight into why or how to recycle them correctly is so irresponsible.

Because if that post is now influencing their 1.7 million followers to start recycling their pizza boxes without learning how to actually recycle them or checking if their city accepts pizza boxes, we could see an uptick in contaminated recycling and ultimately less being recycled.

So what should we do instead?

First, check what’s recyclable in your city. Google “what’s recyclable in my city?” and you should find a webpage from your city with all the info you need to recycle right where you live.

Then, if you find yourself with a pizza box, don’t put the greasy cheesy parts in the recycling bin. 

TBH, even if your city claims to accept pizza boxes with all their greasy glory, it’s always better to be more thorough with your recycling habits than less.

Tear off any contaminated pieces of your pizza box and throw them away - or compost them if you have access to compost! (Double-check your city’s composting guidelines, too, if you’re composting through a city program rather than a home system!)

Any grease-free, cheese-free cardboard left from the box can be recycled. Corrugated cardboard is highly recyclable, so if we can divert more from landfills and keep them in our recycling system, that’s great! But we need to do so responsibly.

So basically, this is the program with our current recycling system.

There’s so much conflicting information and so many corporations and organizations with their own agendas that it’s insanely difficult as consumers to know what’s actually going on.

And instead of taking responsibility for the amount of waste they’re creating, Domino’s is turning around and putting the onus back on us, the consumers.

Change needs to happen from the top-down and the bottom-up. We cannot have one without the other.

So step it up, Domino’s. Take responsibility for your actions and your waste. Use your massive budgets to lobby for better recycling guidelines, increased recycling access, and standardized recycling across the country.

And as for us, as EcoWarriors, do your part to learn what’s recyclable where you live and follow those guidelines.

What do you think of Domino’s post? Have you noticed any other corporations making claims like these? Let’s get the conversation started over in the EcoWarrior Pod!


How "green" are specialty recycling programs?

1 comment

  • Seanclipsham

    Two nights ago i bought my first Domino’s pizza in ten years. The entire front of the box tells you to recycle the box. I know that any grease or cheese means you can’t. I was gobsmacked such transparent and problematic greenwashing. It just screams, “WE DO NOT CARE”, we are just doing everything we can to make money and we know that some of our customers are ignorant about the problem with pizza boxes, butr also want to be environmentrally responsible.

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