It is National Pizza Day on February 9, 2024, and the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) is marking the occasion by celebrating the recyclability of pizza boxes!
Pizza boxes are typically made from corrugated board, which is made mostly from recycled content. So once that pizza is eaten, and the box is empty and clean, pizza lovers can easily place it in their residential recycling bins. Once the box is collected, it is sent to a Material Recycling Facility (MRF) for processing, where it gets sorted, baled, and sold. Once sold, that recycled material can be reused by PPEC member paper packaging mills, where it will get remade into a new pizza box or another type of paper-based packaging.
Recycled content keeps valuable raw materials out of landfill and flowing for longer, reducing the need to extract virgin materials. The average recycled content for domestic shipments of containerboard made in Canada – which is used to make corrugated board like pizza boxes – is over 80%, according to PPEC’s 2022 Recycled Content Survey.
Thanks to the important act of recycling, it is likely that your pizza box has had multiple lives, and we want that to continue. But we also want to clear up some confusion when it comes to the recyclability of pizza boxes.
While some have suggested that pizza boxes should not be placed in recycling because of the grease and cheese scraps, that's just not true. If you remove the food scraps, that corrugated pizza box is recyclable in Canada.
When it gets to the recycling mill, the empty pizza box goes into a pulper – which is like a big washing machine – where any non-paper materials are removed through a series of cleaning and screening processes. The paper fibres are then pumped onto a fast-moving screen to form paper or board. The rest of the process involves removing the moisture out of the paper or board so that it can be wound onto big rolls or cut into sheets, which are then shipped to a converter or a box plant, where it is remade into new paper-based packaging.
And as for that greasy residue on the box, the heat of the process usually gets rid of it. In a typical mill’s recycling process, the temperature of the paper sheet reaches up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit – well above 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water and the temperature required for sterilisation – which gets rid of the grease. Though there is not much grease to begin with, as the average grease content of a pizza box found in the recycling stream is approximately 1-2% by weight level, according to WestRock’s Incorporation of Post-Consumer Pizza Boxes in the Recovered Fiber Stream Study.
Not only do 96% of Canadians have access to recycling for corrugated boxes, according to an independent third-party study commissioned by PPEC, but Canadians actively do their part by recycling their boxes. However, it should be noted that for some Canadian communities, composting paper packaging (including pizza boxes) may be more convenient, such as in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, who are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest packaging recycling mill.
Happy National Pizza Day from PPEC, and don’t forget to recycle your empty pizza boxes so they can be recycled into new pizza boxes! Recycled pizza boxes are an important slice of the Canadian paper packaging industry’s circular economy