This National Pizza Day Don’t Forget that Pizza Boxes are Recyclable in Canada

It is National Pizza Day on February 9, 2022, and the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) wants to celebrate by reminding you that pizza boxes are recyclable in Canada! You thought we were going to say eat pizza, right? You can do that, too, but don’t forget to recycle that box once you’re done!

Pizza boxes are normally made from corrugated board, and in Canada, corrugated board is made mostly from recycled content. So, once that empty and clean pizza box is placed in the recycling bin – where it is then collected, sent for processing, baled, and sold – that recycled material then makes its way back to our members’ paper packaging mills, where it will get remade into a new pizza box, or another type of paper-based packaging.

That recycled pizza box represents an important slice of the Canadian paper packaging industry’s circular economy. Recycled content keeps raw materials flowing longer, reducing the need to extract virgin materials. And the average recycled content for domestic shipments of containerboard – which is used to make corrugated board – is close to 87%, based on PPEC’s 2020 Recycled Content Survey.

In general, paper can be recycled up to seven times, while corrugated box fibres can be used up to ten times, to make new boxes and other paper-based packaging products. We already thought those numbers were quite good, but a new study from Graz University of Technology in Austria found that fibre-based packaging material can be recycled at least 25 times, without losing mechanical or structural integrity, suggesting that paper and board fibres are even more durable than previously thought.

Thanks to the important act of recycling, it’s likely that your pizza box has had multiple lives, and we want that to continue. But unfortunately, there has been some confusion over the years when it comes to their recyclability.

pizzaboxesRed.pdf 1024x684
pizzaboxesRed.pdf 1024×684

In the past, it has been suggested that pizza boxes should not be placed in blue box recycling bins because of the grease and cheese scraps. But that’s not true. If you remove the food scraps (eat those crusts!) and any plastic (like that three-pronged pizza saver which is meant to prevent the box top from sagging), that corrugated pizza box is recyclable in Canada.

And when it gets to the recycling mill, the empty pizza box goes into a pulper – which is like a big washing machine – where any non-paper materials are removed through a series of cleaning and screening processes. The paper fibres are then pumped onto a fast-moving screen to form paper or board. The rest of the process involves removing the moisture out of the paper or board so that it can be wound onto big rolls or cut into sheets, which are then shipped to a converter or a box plant, where it is remade into new paper-based packaging.

But what about the greasy residue you sometimes see on a pizza box? Well, in a typical mill’s recycling process, the temperature of the paper sheet reaches up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit – well above 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water and the temperature required for sterilisation – which gets rid of the grease. Though there is not much grease to begin with, as the average grease content of a pizza box found in the recycling stream is approximately 1-2% by weight level, according to WestRock’s Incorporation of Post-Consumer Pizza Boxes in the Recovered Fiber Stream Study.

Paper-packaging is a successful recycling story in Canada and pizza boxes are no exception.

Not only do 96% of Canadians have access to recycling for corrugated boxes, determined through an independent third-party study commissioned by PPEC, but Canadians actively do their part by recycling. PPEC has estimated a national recovery rate for corrugated boxes of at least 85%, with recycling even higher in certain provinces, such as Ontario’s Blue Box program, which has a 98% recovery rate for corrugated.

However, it should be noted that for some Canadian communities, composting paper packaging (including pizza boxes) may be more convenient, such as in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, who are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest packaging recycling mill.

Happy National Pizza Day from PPEC, and don’t forget to recycle your empty pizza boxes so they can be recycled into new pizza boxes!

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)
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