Pizza boxes are made from the same material as most shipping boxes – corrugated containers – which are widely accepted for recycling. However, paper mills that accept old corrugated containers (OCC) for recycling typically prohibit the presence of food scraps above a de minimis level. In some cases, out of an abundance of caution, recycling programs have prohibited pizza boxes altogether in an effort to reduce the risk that consumers will leave uneaten pizza and other food scraps in the box. Over the years, this has come to be incorrectly interpreted as “pizza boxes are not recyclable.”
Corrugated pizza boxes are made from the same material as shipping and moving boxes, which have an annual recovery rate for recycling of more than 92 percent. More than 80 percent of North American containerboard paper mills use recycled fiber from old corrugated containers (OCC).
The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) states that “Corrugated pizza boxes that are free from food are widely accepted by AF&PA member company mills that accept OCC.”
In reality, the majority of paper mills accept pizza boxes for recycling with no observed impacts to operations or finished product quality. A survey by the AF&PA found that most mills that recycle OCC, also accept pizza boxes for recycling.
Used pizza boxes often contain grease which, theoretically, could interfere with the bonding ability of fibers during the paper making process. However, a study conducted by WestRock found that recycled pizza boxes at expected volumes and grease level do not significantly impact the paper making process.
Corrugated boxes are one of the most widely recycled materials on the planet. In the U.S., 96 percent of corrugated boxes produced are recovered for recycling. A recent study conducted by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), found that 73 percent of the U.S. population are estimated to have recycling programs available for pizza boxes. This includes 27 percent of the population served by programs with explicit acceptance of pizza boxes and 46 percent of the population having access to programs that implicitly accept pizza boxes. Implicit acceptance is comprised of programs that accept corrugated cardboard while not prohibiting pizza boxes. Only 11 percent of the population is served by programs that explicitly prohibit pizza boxes.
Always remember to empty your pizza box before recycling it.
Recycled pizza boxes are repulped at a paper mill and incorporated as recycled content into new boxes or other paper-based products.
The cardboard in old corrugated containers, including pizza boxes, can be recycled up to seven times before the quality of the fibers are degraded. New boxes entering the recycle stream help replenish these degraded fibers and sustain the cycle indefinitely.