If you’ve long tossed your pizza boxes into the trash, figuring—along with many other Americans—that the grease and cheese leftover on the cardboard meant it couldn’t be recycled, Domino’s wants you to think again. It turns out that nearly three quarters of U.S. residents have a recycling program that accepts pizza boxes, and some grease and cheese stuck to the cardboard doesn’t affect the quality of the recycled product.
Domino’s partnered with WestRock, the chain’s largest box supplier, to launch recycling.dominos.com, a website full of facts about pizza box recycling and resources consumers can use if their own municipality does not yet accept pizza boxes for recycling.
WestRock estimates that 73% of the population has access to recycling programs for empty pizza boxes, but the messaging may not be clear to consumers; 27% of those programs explicitly say they accept pizza boxes, while 46% implicitly accept pizza boxes. WestRock wants to make those recycling programs more explicit about their pizza-box acceptance.
WestRock also commissioned a study to addressed the leftover grease and cheese conundrum; several WestRock material recovery facilities pulled pizza boxes out of their incoming streams, took pictures of the inside and measured the grease levels, and then put the “high grease content” boxes back into the recycling stream as a worst-case scenario situation.
“We proved that the grease and cheese residuals, at the levels that are typically found in a pizza box, can make it through the recycling stream with no issue, and . . . there’s no issues with the paper after we recycle the boxes,” says Jeff Chalovich, WestRock chief commercial officer and president of corrugated packaging. Though super greasy boxes—where the grease was 20% of the boxes weight—did affect the strength of the recycled paper, most pizza boxes aren’t all that greasy, averaging around 1% to 2% by weight level. Even boxes that had 10% grease didn’t see a loss in paper strength. Any stuck-on cheese, the study found, solidifies and gets screened out during the pulping process of paper recycling.
Each year, about 3 billion pizza boxes—equivalent to 600,000 tons of corrugated board—enter the market. Domino’s boxes already contain 72% recycled content, but both the pizza chain and WestRock hope even more boxes can re-enter the recycling stream, so they can make more recycled paper. Corrugated paper can be recycled at least seven times, and has a recycling rate around 90%.
The recycling.dominos.com site encourages people to check and see if their municipality accepts pizza boxes (currently customers have to find that out themselves by calling their local recycling providers or using a search like how2recycle.info, though Domino’s and WestRock say a zip code Lookup Tool is in development and will be on the site on the future). If yes, then recycling is as easy as emptying the box of any leftover slices and tossing it in the same bin you put other cardboard boxes.
If no, the site encourages them to contact their local recycling organization and ask them to consider accepting pizza boxes. It also points to a toolkit from The Recycling Partnership—a nonprofit that works to improve recycling accessibility, of which Domino’s and WestRock are both members—with templates for social media posts, signs municipalities can use to show which recyclables go in which bin, and a planning document for facilities to adapt to accepting pizza boxes.