pjcross / Shutterstock.com

The short answer: cheese grease is ruining everything.

Dear CityLab: Can I recycle a used pizza box, or can't I? I mean, it's cardboard, right? Please help me settle this once and for all.

It's a large, flat cardboard surface—should be a recycling no-brainer, right? Nope. According to Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, the short answer is no, you can't recycle a pizza box.

Paper is particularly susceptible to food and beverage contamination, and it "ends up suffering the most from getting mixed with other materials," says Hoover. The culprits: gooey cheese and oil stains. Even if you remove the crusty cheese and sauce the slices leave behind, grease will have already soaked into the cardboard, ruining it for recycling. In a single-stream system (where bottles, glass, paper, and more all co-mingle) residue from other items in the bin could also contaminate the cardboard. Food and oil can't be separated from paper in the pulping process, so once paper is soiled, it's a done deal.

If your community offers high-volume composting, you can put the pizza box with the rest of your organic waste. If not, you'll need to go ahead and throw it out with the garbage. The same goes for other dirtied paper products, including napkins, tissues, and paper towels.

OK, fine. But what about the plastic tripod in the middle?

Alas, you probably can't recycle that, either. It's small, it's not a container, and it's difficult to tell what polymer it's made out of, so you're safer trashing it unless your local recycling program accepts all hard plastics.

As always, you should check with your local waste management authority to make sure you’re following the recycling regulations for your community.

Top image: pjcross / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.

  2. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  3. a rendering of the moon village with a view of Earth
    Design

    Designing the First Full-Time Human Habitat on the Moon

    SOM, in partnership with the ESA and MIT, wants to accommodate research and maybe even tourism on the moon.

  4. A new map of neighborhood change in U.S. metros shows where displacement is the main problem, and where economic decline persists.
    Equity

    From Gentrification to Decline: How Neighborhoods Really Change

    A new report and accompanying map finds extreme gentrification in a few cities, but the dominant trend—particularly in the suburbs—is the concentration of low-income population.

  5. Maria Romano stands behind one of her three children, Jennifer, 10, as she gets something to eat in their Harlem apartment in New York Thursday, June 3, 2005
    Equity

    Why HUD Wants to Restrict Assistance for Immigrants

    A proposal by Ben Carson’s agency would eject immigrant families from public housing to make way for the "most vulnerable." Housing advocates aren't buying it.