Just like the characters in the summer flick, Mystic Pizza, we too are in the heat of summer, working to figure out the mysteries of life and our future. Well, maybe not the mysteries of life….but the mysteries of foodservice packaging recovery across the U.S. and Canada! One of the mysteries we have encountered is the question of whether pizza boxes are really suitable for recycling or not. As I addressed in a previous post, the public has received mixed messages on whether to include or exclude this common item in their recycling bins. But we are finding in that many cities, including New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, are now accepting pizza boxes in their programs. What’s really happening out there?
Our team set out to solve the mystery of pizza box recyclability by talking to some of the largest old corrugated container (OCC) mills in North America. These conversations have been extraordinarily valuable in clearing up a common misperception that you couldn’t recycle pizza boxes. An overwhelming majority of large OCC-consuming mills that were contacted have no issues with pizza boxes included in OCC bales.
Here are some other key take-aways from our conversations with these mill operators:
· The changing waste composition has led many recycled paper mills to look for new sources of fibers.
· OCC is highly recovered and is the largest demand grade - domestic and export. New sources are desirable and residential OCC is a growth area for recovery.
· Pizza boxes can easily be included in the single-stream curbside mix for household collection.
· Pizza boxes are easily sorted at material recovery facilities (MRFs) into OCC bales.
· Although thought to be of concern for OCC mills, moderate amounts of residual grease and cheese are not problematic for them. However, ongoing resident education is important to minimize food residue in all recycled materials, not just pizza boxes.
· Liner sheets and spacers can help minimize grease and cheese residue on pizza boxes (although these should be removed prior to recycling the box).
· Some mills stated that although they do not prefer pizza boxes due to their concerns with food contamination, they have recognized that they already receive boxes from curbside programs.
· MRFs not currently accepting pizza boxes are encouraged to discuss with their markets whether they can be included in existing OCC bales.
As FPI’s Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastics Recovery Group continue to work on understanding real and perceived barriers and opportunities to recovering more material, it appears that pizza boxes fall into the “perceived” category, and we hope to see the inclusion of pizza boxes in more recycling programs across the U.S. and Canada.
Psst! Be sure to stay tuned over the summer to see the results of our second food residue study currently underway (results of the first study may be found here), plus the results of a pair of real-world studies on recovery of paper foodservice packaging in mixed paper bales. Certainly not a lazy summer for us!