Let’s Join the Pizza Box Revolution
If you are eating more pizza – and having it delivered more often to your home or office – join the crowd.
From 2019, one year before the pandemic, to 2020, the first year of the pandemic, consumer spending on pizza delivery jumped from about US $10 billion annually, where it had been stuck for years, to nearly $15 billion. By 2021, it jumped again to almost $20 billion. Of course, there are a variety of reasons for this. When the pandemic first started, almost everyone was afraid to do anything but go outside. Restaurants, if they were open at all, were especially taboo out of fear of catching COVID. So, we stayed home and ate lots and lots of pizzas.
Now that about 50 percent of workers have returned to the workspace, even if just one to three days per week, they have continued their habit of ordering pizzas. The same is true in many public schools. However, this is primarily because many schools are short-staffed, with fewer people working in cafeterias. Further, big and small pizzerias have made ordering pizza easy and inexpensive, and they can deliver it fast. What’s not to like, especially now that we are all addicted to pizza?
Well, for facility managers, especially sustainability-focused ones, there are several things not to like. For one thing, they do not like all those pizza boxes tossed into trash cans and filling dumpsters. It can be costly and simply is not necessary.
Historically, we have treated used pizza boxes as trash. However, in the past few years, two organizations – Domino’s, the largest pizza delivery company in the country, and WestRock, the second-largest paper and packaging manufacturer in the U.S. – have teamed up, encouraging people to recycle pizza boxes.
Both started by debunking some long-lasting myths about pizza box recycling. The primary myth is that pizza boxes cannot be recycled because the box is contaminated with grease and oil. Although this can be true, in most cases, according to studies by WestRock, that amount is relatively small. The box should not be recycled if it contains 20 percent or more grease and oil. However, in most cases, a used pizza box contains only about 2 to 3 percent grease and oil, making it readily recyclable.
Related to this, some facility managers and others do not believe the box can be recycled because the boxes are made of corrugated board. This material is used for all kinds of packaging and containers. Corrugated board has been recycled for years. And because Americans consume an estimated three billion pizzas annually, recycling the corrugated boxes allows 600,000 tons of corrugated material to be recovered and reused.
So now that we have debunked those myths, here are some questions facility managers may have about recycling pizza boxes:
Does every recycling center accept pizza boxes for recycling?
No, but most do. According to Domino’s, “a 2021 study commissioned by WestRock estimated that 70 percent of the population has access to recycling programs for empty pizza boxes.”
How do you find these recycling centers?
Domino’s helps facility managers find these locations via a recycling center locator on its website. These recycling centers can also be located by searching on search engines.
Is there a charge to recycle pizza boxes?
In most cases, no. Recyclers typically make money by selling their recycled materials to companies that convert the materials into clothing, insulation, packaging materials, and more.
Can the paper, aluminum foil, or parchment paper inside the box be recycled?
In most cases, these should be tossed as trash. Usually, the paper has food residue on it, inhibiting its recyclability. The same is true of the foil. Although aluminum foil is recyclable, if it contains food residue, it too should be tossed. Parchment paper is typically treated with silicone, so the pizza does not stick to the paper. However, this makes it nonrecyclable. Many pizzas are now delivered with “pizza savers” as well. These are three-pronged plastic pieces that keep the top lid of the box from touching the pizza inside. They can be recycled.
Are pizza box manufacturers marking their boxes as recyclable to encourage recycling?
Most are. The packaging company is responsible for indicating, for instance, what the box is made of. If it meets certain certifications or is made from recycled materials. These markings will also encourage users to recycle the container. By the way, pizza boxes can be recycled up to seven times. After that, the paper fibers start to disintegrate, hindering their recyclability.
What if there are staples on the box, for instance, advertising materials stapled to the box? Should we remove the staples?
No. Most recycling systems can separate those from the box.
How can we effectively encourage tenants to recycle pizza boxes?
What is proving most effective is messaging. In 2017 Stanford University published one of the few studies demonstrating the power of messaging. In one test, researchers posted different types of signs encouraging students to conserve water by washing only full loads of laundry. Three weeks after the signs were posted, the university reported a 10 percent to as much as 30 percent reduction in students washing small loads of laundry. The same can be true with pizza box recycling.
Messaging works. Make sure tenants know that pizza boxes are recyclable and that there are recycling bins available to them. In time, look for an increase in the number of tenants recycling pizza boxes.
Michael Wilson is AFFLINK’S Senior Vice President of Business Development at AFFLINK, a distributor membership organization made up of more than 300 distributors in North America. He has been with the organization since 2006 and provides strategic leadership for distributor members around the country. In his free time, Michael works with the Wounded Warrior Project, helping veterans heal and get their lives back on track. He can be reached through his company website at www.afflink.com.
 The 2017 Stanford University study used a combination of messages. Some signs encouraged residents to conserve water by washing only full loads. These were called “static” messages. They were just a request.
Other signs included messages such as “Stanford Residents Are Changing: Now Most Use Full Loads/Help Stanford Conserve Water.” These messages were called “dynamic” because they were designed to change behaviors. These were the most effective.