19 April 2011

This is why pizza boxes can't be recycled

Excerpts from an article at Earth911.com:
But when paper products, like cardboard, are recycled, they are mixed with water and turned into a slurry... Grease from pizza boxes causes oil to form at the top of the slurry, and paper fibers cannot separate from oils during the pulping process. Essentially, this contaminant causes the entire batch to be ruined. This is the reason that other food related items are non-recyclable (used paper plates, used napkins, used paper towels, etc).

“The oil gets in when you’re doing your process of making paper,” said Terry Gellenbeck, a solid waste administrative analyst for the City of Phoenix. “The oil causes great problems for the quality of the paper, especially the binding of the fibers. It puts in contaminants, so when they do squeeze the water out, it has spots and holes.”
Suggested solution for avid recyclers: Cut the empty box up, trashing the food-stained part, and recycling the top and clean parts.


  1. That always made sense to me regarding contaminated papers. What I don't understand is why Aluminum foils contaminated with food cannot be recycled. I would think the extreme temperatures required to smelt aluminum would easily burn off oils and junk. Someone needs to figure it out, because the amount of foil going into to landfills is criminal.

  2. Sometimes I wish I was a scientist.

  3. They're gung-ho for recycling in San Francisco. I noticed that used food paper goods, like paper plates and cups, go in the compost cans, so that's an alternative if you can shred your pizza boxes somehow.

  4. Robb, I totally agree with you. I've never understood why "dirty" tinfoil can't be processed. I reuse old tinfoil with baking soda to clean old silver, and suspect it could be further recycled after that. Don't know why bacon grease or whatever would prevent that.

    1. I was told by a (Ohio) recycling center we can not recycle the aluminum foil because unscrupulous people will ball up rocks or scrap lead into it to add to the weight to increase the cash value. Kinda like the gold bars with tungsten in the center from a previous post.

  5. You can recycle used aluminum foil in some areas. In our area, we are told to rinse off the foil, then place it in our recycle bin.

    Try checking if your recycling program has an online site that may have more info.


  6. We "recycle" the stained pizza boxes in our compost cans in Seattle too. Any and all food scraps go into the cans; meat, dairy, vegetable, bones, everything. We don't have to shred the pizza boxes, our compost cans are as big as our normal recycle cans or trash cans, and the trash service removes them weekly. In fact, you can be fined for throwing recyclables into your 'trash' cans.

  7. Seattle allows pizza boxes to be put into the compost bins the city provides city residents. The bins are picked up periodically. The compost bin contents (yard waste, clean wood, grass trimmings, pizza boxes, etc.) are taken to a plant which makes bags of compost for garden use.


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