News flash: Pizza boxes can be recycled!

Restaurants are having a tough time in 2020, as consumers are dining at home more than ever with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on their usual habits and causing many to cut back on dining out. When it comes to pizza, though, take-out and delivery are already well-established habits in many households –and even more attractive in this climate. We learned in July that consumers have yet another reason to feel good about pizza night: it’s now been officially established and agreed that the pizza box is, in fact, recyclable.

The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) issued this news, after conferring with corrugated industry stakeholders, to set the record straight: turns out cheese and grease stuck to the boxes will not negatively impact recyclability. A study by WestRock, an AF&PA and FBA member company, found that the typical amounts of these contaminants are acceptable, and paper mills that recycle boxes agreed. 

The announcement clears the way for communities and consumers to increase recovery of old corrugated containers (OCC) in recycling programs. It also gives pizza restaurants a new opportunity to promote alignment with consumer values at a time when people are hungry for connection and for ways in which they can contribute to the greater good. Recycling pizza boxes benefits the box industry, pizza restaurants, towns and cities, and individuals – and, of course, the environment. Here’s how:

  • Working with contractors and haulers, municipal recycling administrators can add pizza boxes to the list of acceptable materials for collection in residential recycling programs. 

  • That’s good, because there is a healthy domestic market for the OCC, which supports recycling economics and infrastructure.

  • In fact, the corrugated industry needs to recover more OCC in order to keep making new boxes; the average corrugated box is made of 50% recycled fiber from OCC, and 50% new fiber from harvested trees grown in sustainably managed forests. The recovered fiber is an essential feed stock.

  • Around 90% of the corrugated produced each year is successfully recovered for recycling, but the shift from retail/restaurants to home delivery means more boxes are going to households and less to stores, which have long supported a thriving, commercial recovery stream. 

  • Collecting pizza boxes in residential recycling programs will make more recovered fiber available for manufacturing new boxes – needed to support the viability of all supply chains, in all industries, which rely on boxes to transport products of all kinds.

The convergence of extraordinary developments in 2020, from the pandemic to wildfires, is forcing people to rethink many of their habits and pay more attention to their key values. Attention to human health is awakening a collective awareness of sustainability in the big picture, and a growing sense of personal and corporate responsibility. Many consumers are welcoming opportunities to decrease their impact. 

Pizza sellers have an opportunity to promote goodwill and positivity by reminding customers to recycle their boxes. The “Corrugated Recycles” emblem should be printed on every pizza box, at a minimum, to drive the message home. Letting customers know that they can recycle those boxes is a great way to build a spirit of cooperation and engagement. Everyone wins when more boxes are recycled: corrugated box manufacturers get more raw material back for making new products, and restaurants create values-based bonds with their customers. And the planet wins with every box that is recovered and recycled.  

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