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The power of cheese compels you

I don’t know what you like to eat on weekends, but I get a craving for comfort foods like pizza. My favourite toppings are mozzarella, pineapple and pesto, which we all know make a beautiful, sticky mess – both on the cardboard and on your fingers.

Let’s start with a fun fact. Did you know that no less than 3 billion pizza boxes are sold in America every year? According to paper & packaging company WestRock this represents about 600 000 tonnes of fibre, which is the equivalent of 53 Eiffel Towers. If all boxes would be recycled, they would account for almost 3% of the recyclable cardboard generated in the US per annum.

With the growing popularity of food to go, brands like Domino’s and Pizza Hut have taken the world by storm. They each have over 15 000 stores worldwide in 85+ different countries. Due to this, it’s not Italy but the US that’s the world’s biggest pizza market in the world; consuming US$ 46.2 billion (EUR 37.9 billion) of the US$ 145 billion (EUR 119 billion) in total worldwide sales in 2020.

Now let’s address a common recycling myth, namely that pizza boxes can’t be recycled as they are ‘too dirty’. This is false. They are made from the same material as a regular corrugated cardboard box, which has an average recovery rate for recycling of 92%. Food scraps can easily be removed if you can spare the extra 10 seconds. (I suppose the real question is; do fast food and patience go together?)

Sadly, pizza boxes still suffer from a bad reputation, meaning a lot of them never make it to the recycler, being dumped in landfill instead. It doesn’t help that even Domino’s admits that most (73%) collection schemes in the US aren’t clear on whether pizza boxes are accepted or not.  

That’s why it collaborated with WestRock last summer to conduct a survey about the recyclability of this frequently overlooked waste stream. This unlikely partnership saw WestRock workers photographing used pizza boxes found at recycling yards – and even pulling them out of rubbish heaps and overflowing city waste bins.

Upon closer inspection, the crew discovered that grease stains or bits of cheese would not have a negative effect on the recyclability of the cardboard, nor on the products created from that material. The conclusion is, no surprise, that pizza boxes are ‘technically recyclable’. This reality is gradually dawning on the people behind collection schemes, too.

So my advice is this; next time you order in, don’t be so quick to throw out the grease-stained cardboard with the trash. Simply get rid of any crusts, sauce and other leftovers so you can prep them for collection together with your cereal boxes, milk cartons… and hope for the best.

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