Ask Eartha: The pizza box dilemma

Hayden van Andel
High Country Conservation Center
In Summit County, greasy pizza boxes belong in the trash not the recycle.
Photo from Getty Images

Dear Eartha,
My friend posted an article on Facebook that says greasy pizza boxes can now be recycled, but I was told they belong in the trash. What’s the deal? Are greasy pizza boxes recyclable?

To start, let’s get one thing straight: In Summit County, greasy pizza boxes belong in the trash.

This question gets asked a lot because cardboard pizza boxes are everywhere. About 3 billion pizza boxes are sold in the United States annually. Altogether, they weigh 600,000 tons — the equivalent of 2,667 Statues of Liberty. If they were all recycled, they would account for 2.6% of the recyclable cardboard generated in the U.S. annually.

I enjoy my fair share of pizza, and I’m sure you do, as well. So it’s important that we dispose of our used pizza boxes properly. Let me clarify why recycling pizza boxes can be so complicated.

Check local recycling guidelines

Every community is different when it comes to recycling guidelines. Materials that one community can recycle another community might not based on their accessibility to infrastructure and companies that purchase recycled material. Never assume that just because something can be recycled in one zip code that it is the same in another.

In Summit County, our recycling experts ask that we keep any greasy part of those pizza boxes out of the recycling bins. But don’t be discouraged. There is still a way to recycle the remnants of your Saturday night without contaminating the other recycling.

Simply empty your pizza boxes of any crumbs, crust, cheese and toppings and then cut out any greasy spots with scissors. This will leave you with clean cardboard that can be recycled. To find more information about local recycling guidelines, visit, and use the Rocky tool to search for specific items.

Remember, recycling is a business

Consider for a moment the cardboard bin at one of our local recycling centers. When those bins fill up, they get trucked over to the Summit County Resource Allocation Park. There, the cardboard gets smashed into a bale, similar to a hay bale, which is then sold. The bale is transported to a facility that makes new cereal boxes, paper towels or even new pizza boxes.

Do you think the folks making paper towels want a bunch of cheese, grease or other kinds of trash in their cardboard? Nope. They expect clean materials. Otherwise, they can’t use it. That’s why too much food, grease or other trash in the recycling can cause everything to end up in the landfill.

As technology advances, rules in one community might change. However, it’s not always practical — or environmentally responsible — to transport loads of recycling across the country to get greasy pizza boxes to the one facility that’s figured it all out.

So where does this leave us? In Summit County, greasy pizza boxes belong in the trash. And next time your friend posts the latest news from their town, it’s part of our responsibility to check local guidelines.

An easy and fun way to remind yourself before tossing something in the recycling is: when in doubt, search it out. If you use the Rocky search tool on, you’ll keep our recycling clean and valuable.

A piece of the pie

When the day is done and the pie is polished off, keep this in mind: Protecting our Earth’s resources requires more than properly recycling a pizza box.

It is also important to look at what we are buying. Reduce your impact by choosing reusables over single-use products, bringing your own leftover containers when dining at restaurants, and even making your own pizza when you can.

As far as your friend’s Facebook post, it’s more important than ever to scrutinize and fact check what we read and watch online. Whether it’s pizza or politics, keep doing your part and dig a little deeper.

“Ask Eartha Steward” is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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