Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recycling That Greasy Pizza Box? “Don’t Worry About It!”

John J. Doherty, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation

Given the age-old debate about the recyclability of pizza boxes, the title of my blog this week might peak the attention (and criticism) of just a few of my 'za- and earth-loving friends out there. I'm hoping so, of course, because what's a blog without some extreme opinions and lively debate? But, before my compatriots jump to the comments section to refute too quickly... I'll acquiesce a little. My title is true only sometimes. Here is the truth:

There is no universal answer to the question as to whether pizza boxes are recyclable.

Put simply, in some municipalities pizza boxes are recyclable; in others, they are not. Many bloggers out there have tried to clear up this longstanding debate. They have failed miserably, however, by making blanket statements on the subject that supposedly apply to every single municipality in the country. This is irresponsible, in my opinion, given the simple statement I note above (i.e. that there is no single correct answer). To prove this point, I took a few minutes to find out more about the different recycling policies of various municipalities. Here is what I learned:

New York City: Recycle it. John J. Doherty, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation put it best: "Don't worry about it! Into the recycling bin...and it goes back through the process and out as a new pizza box!"

San Francisco: Compost it. Through its three-cart program (black cart for landfill items, blue cart for recycling items and green cart for compostable items), pizza boxes are placed in the green cart then turned into organic compost for farming.

Philadelphia: Toss it. There's no love for pizza boxes here. According to the city's website, pizza boxes are not recyclable and end up in landfill with the regular trash. 

So there you have it. Three cities with three different recycling practices for pizza boxes. What's the moral here? It is the responsibility of all pizza operators to educate their customers about the acceptable recycling practices of their communities. Don't take the easy way out and listen to the weberalities (my new term for web generalities)... get the facts!

What's your city's policy regarding the recycling of pizza box? Leave your comment below.


  1. Any thing, which is recycled, is good. If we can recycle pizza boxes, then why not. It is good that you mentioned about the different recycling policies for pizza boxes.

  2. In case you don't know, Recyclebank has just teamed up with Greenopolis! Now you can earn both Recyclebank and Greenopolis points everytime you recycle. Check out this video-- I learned about the news here.

  3. This is really interesting! I am puzzled how NYC Dept. of Sanitation recycles cardboard pizza boxes that are food-stained. I always read that the grease, mixed with paper causes a slurry that clogs the equipment.

    I personally use my own stainless steel pan with lid, but used to cut used pizza boxes into pieces - composting the parts that were cheesy and recycling the rest. I'm in the SF area and we are lucky enough to have commercial composting. For those who don't, sadly the cheesy parts go in the trash.

    I emailed the NYC Dept. of Sanitation for an explanation on how their recycling works. Or...if you've already learned what makes their system unique, I'd love more information.

    Thanks for the post! I will be curious to learn other city's policies too.

  4. Wow...heard back from the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR) just 30 minutes!

    Here's what their Information & Outreach Specialist relayed:

    Thank you for contacting the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR).

    Our educational materials encourage NYC residents, agencies and institutions that receive NYC Department of Sanitation collection for their recyclables, to set out clean and empty pizza boxes with their mixed paper and cardboard. A little bit of grease is OK, but a slice of pizza is definitely not. We require that paper soiled with food or liquid be discarded as trash.

    FOR MORE INFORMATION: learn more by clicking on the URL’s below:
    Contact BWPRR

    So there we have it...I hope NYers read the fine print and cut their used cardboard pizza boxes into pieces - unsoiled for the recycling bin and food-soiled for the trash.

  5. Hi Susan -

    Modern recycling facilities are actually quite well-equipped to handle the little bit of grease that ends up on pizza boxes. As the DSNY stated in its email to you, "a little bit of grease is OK, but a slice of pizza is definitely not." By and large, most pizza boxes should be recycled in NYC.

  6. I don't see how a pizza box isn't not recyclable, it is cardboard after all, isn't it? If they say its fine for NYC, I don't see why not then.

    -Land Source Container Service, Inc.

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