Pizza night is a tradition in many American households — and this year, an especially popular option for consumers staying home or scaling back on restaurant dining. In July, we learned that pizza lovers have one more reason to feel good about embracing pizza night: It’s now been officially established and agreed that the pizza box is, in fact, recyclable.

The news, released last month by the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), corrects a common misconception: the belief that cheese and grease stuck to the boxes would negatively impact recyclability. A study by WestRock, an AF&PA and FBA member company, found that the typical amounts of these contaminants are acceptable, and paper mills that recycle boxes concurred.

Industry agreement clears the way for positive action to increase recovery of old corrugated containers (OCC) in recycling programs. It also gives pizza purveyors a new opportunity to promote alignment with consumer values at a time when people are thirsting for connection and for ways in which they can contribute to the greater good. Recycling pizza boxes can create a cascade of benefits, in fact, for the box industry, pizza restaurants, towns and cities, and individuals — as well as for the environment. Here’s why:

  • Working with contractors and haulers, municipal recycling administrators can add pizza boxes to the list of acceptable materials for collection in residential recycling programs.
  • That’s good, because there is a hungry domestic market for the OCC, which supports recycling economics and infrastructure.
  • In fact, the corrugated industry needs to recover more OCC in order to keep making new boxes; the average corrugated box is made of 50% recycled fiber from OCC and 50% new fiber from harvested trees grown in sustainably managed forests. The recovered fiber is an essential feed stock.
  • Around 90% of the corrugated produced each year is successfully recovered for recycling, but the shift from retail/restaurants to home delivery moves more boxes to households and out of the well-established, commercial recovery stream.
  • Collecting pizza boxes in residential recycling programs will make more recovered fiber available for manufacturing new boxes — needed to support the viability of all supply chains, in all industries, which rely on boxes to transport products of all kinds.

The confluence of historic events in 2020, from the pandemic to social protests and upheaval, is forcing people to rethink many of their habits and pay more attention to their key values. Attention to human health is awakening a collective awareness of sustainability in the big picture, and a growing sense of personal and corporate responsibility. Many consumers are looking for small actions they can take to contribute and make a positive difference.

Pizza sellers have an opportunity to promote goodwill and positivity by reminding customers to recycle their boxes. The “Corrugated Recycles” emblem should be printed on every pizza box, at a minimum, to drive the message home. Letting customers know that they can make a positive contribution by recycling those boxes is a great way to capture a spirit of cooperation that is good for everyone. The box industry gets more raw material back for making new products; the restaurant and customer can bond over a shared commitment; a little good news goes a long way; and the planet wins with every box that is recovered and recycled.