The Recyclability of Pizza Boxes

There has been some comment in the press and on social media about whether pizza boxes are recyclable.   The answer is that the materials used to make boxes – generally fluted cardboard – are fully recyclable.

CEPI (The Confederation of European Paper Industries) states* clearly that pizza boxes can be collected through the paper and board recycling stream, even if they are stained and marked.  However, they say consumers should remove any solid food residues before discarding them in the recycling bin.

As an industry, we also recommend that if the board is excessively dirty consumers should to tear or cut out sections of a box where ingredients or oils have leeched badly into the board.  The untainted board can then be put in the recycling bin.

Whether boxes are actually recycled depends on the ability of the waste collection service to handle them and the economics of this.   This can vary from area to area.

The same situation applies to any food packaging where the products they contain soak into the cardboard or where residues of food are left in packs.   Hence our recommendation to consumers is always ‘Empty it:Bin it’.

*The Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI), which represents the UK paper industry sector, advises:-

Current levels of recycling

  • Paper packaging has a recycling rate of 78% in UK*
  • This is the highest UK recycling rate for any packaging material
  • This percentage already exceeds legislative targets for 2025, as established in the new EU Circular Economy legislation which is due to be adopted this summer

 (*78% for all paper packaging in UK (2017), source: CPI) 

 Importance of separate collection

  • The UK’s paper-based industry is opposed to the commingled collection of paper and board and in favour of separate collection.
  • Commingled collections expose paper and board to contamination both from other materials such as glass which may damage paper recycling and production facilities, and from discarded foodstuffs, water and other contaminants which degrade the quality of the recovered paper and reduce its suitability for recycling.
  • Separate collection increases the quality and the value of the material. It secures the demand for this kind of material by paper mills who recycle it in an efficient way to produce new paper and board products

 Pizza Boxes

  • Contamination with food stuffs means visible quantities of food (e.g. pieces of food). Light traces, stains, marks or residues from contact with food do not prohibit paper from recycling.
  • Paper only food packaging (such as pizza boxes) can therefore be collected through the paper and board stream as standard paper mills can recycle the material.
  • Packaging that is stained or marked is considered recyclable. It should be collected with the paper and board stream.
  • Packaging containing solid food residues should be cleaned so there is no solid food contamination before being discarded with the paper and board stream. If cleaning is impossible, it should be discarded with the residual waste.