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The truth about recycling pizza boxes

Colleen Bates

Finishing off a large pie with some friends recently, conversation turned to the recyclability of the cardboard pizza box it came in, not to mention the pile stacked up in the corner of the room (theoretically speaking, of course, considering the wealth of pizza specials across Los Angeles lately).

While a large percentage of the corrugated pizza boxes in America come adorned with the universal recycling symbol, they can’t just be tossed in the tell-tale blue bins on L.A. streets. As it turns out, the cheese and grease that stains most of the boxes after a pizza delivery is the deal-breaking culprit.

“The oil gets in when you’re doing your process of making paper,” Terry Gellenbeck, a solid waste administrative analyst for the City of Phoenix told Earth 911. “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.”

The simple solution is to tear away any soiled portions of the box for the trash. Any cheese and grease-free cardboard is good to go with your newspapers and plastic bags in the recycling pile.

A company in Minnesota, however, has found a way to recycle entire used pizza boxes, stains and all. It was reported in the fall of last year that Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis, Minnesota, had begun accepting whole used pizza boxes from five cities after successfully converting stained carriers into new cardboard. The program covers boxes with all plastic, foil and wax attachments removed. If the box is seriously caked with cheese, though, just toss it. There’s only so much they can do.