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The Pizza Box & Its Recycling Potential at Your Hotel

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Michael Wilson

According to a study published in Statista, consumer spending on pizza delivery in the United States from 2004 to 2010 averaged about $10 billion each year. But when the pandemic hit, spending for pizza delivery jumped to $14 billion and up further to $19 billion in 2021.

The reason for this jump is apparent: more people were home 24/7 during the pandemic, and ordering a pizza was one of the few “fun” things they could do. In 2022, there was a slight drop to $17.3 billion, but most pizzerias in the country believe the number of deliveries will stay strong in years to come.

So where are all these pizzas, approximately eight million consumed every day, delivered to? “The majority of pizza is consumed at [home] dinner time for adults and lunchtime for kids,” according to PizzaCalc.com. As far as the kids go, many schools now order pizza for lunchtime, primarily due to labor shortages—not enough staff in the cafeteria—or funding cutbacks.

But that still leaves a lot of pizza deliveries, and with so few people returning to the workplace, many of these pizzas are being delivered to hotel and motel guests around the country. This poses a quandary for some green hoteliers: what to do with all the pizza boxes that invariably get tossed in the trash? Can the boxes be recycled?

The answer is that in almost all cases, the boxes can be recycled, so green hoteliers and innkeepers are encouraged to let their guests know that it is easy to recycle pizza boxes.

But before going further, we need to know more about pizza boxes. According to WestRock, one of the largest manufacturers of paper products and packaging materials in the country, pizza boxes are made from corrugated cardboard. About 600,000 tons of corrugated cardboard is used each year in the U.S., and almost all of it can be recycled.

The actual box design used to make a pizza box is called “Michigan-Style.” It’s made of bleached paper, allows for printing outside the box, has folding flaps, and is a sturdy container. It got the name Michigan-Style because the design was first used by a now huge pizza delivery company based in Michigan you may have heard of, Domino’s.

Limitations

However, just because the box is readily recyclable does not mean all pizza boxes can be recycled. There are some limitations, for instance:

Grease content—If the box has more than 20 percent grease content, a significant amount, it cannot be recycled. However, typically, according to WestRock, pizza boxes have an average grease content of just 1 to 3 percent based on the weight of the box. This is a minimal amount and does not interfere with recycling the box.

Foil, paper, or parchment—Parchment paper is often placed under the pizza. It is coated with silicone, making it a nonstick, grease-proof surface. But it is not recyclable. Parchment and any foil or paper placed under the pizza or touching the pizza inside the box should be tossed as trash.

Staples—Many pizzerias will staple advertising or related material on the outside of the box. The paper and the staples can be recycled—no reason to remove them.

Pizza Savers—Many pizzas are now delivered with a pizza saver. This is a three-pronged piece of plastic placed on top of the pizza. It keeps the inside lid of the box from touching the pizza. While the Sierra Club encourages the boxes to be recycled, they say the “saver” is too small. However, most pizza box recycling centers disagree. They can recycle the pizza saver.

Finding recyclers—It would be nice if all paper recyclers accepted used pizza boxes. Seventy-three percent of recyclers do take pizza boxes for recycling. While this is a substantial percentage, many recycling centers in the country still do not. To address this, Domino’s lists recycling centers on its website that do accept pizza boxes. You can find the link here.

How to Encourage Box Recycling

Without recycling pizza boxes, the Sierra Club estimates that tens of billions of pizza boxes are delivered to landfills and incinerators annually. With landfills already filled to the limit, this must be discouraged. So, what can green hoteliers do? Some suggestions include the following:

In the lobby—Because not all hotels allow pizza delivery to be made directly to a hotel guestroom, have the guest come to the lobby to pick up the pizza. That is a perfect time to remind them that the pizza box can be recycled and indicate which bin (for recycled material) they should place it in.

Confirming the reservation—Once a guest has made a reservation, in the confirmation email to the guest, remind them that if ordering pizza, the box can be recycled, and that the hotel can assist in recycling the box.

Messaging—Hotels now leave several messages in their guestrooms, for instance, how often linens are washed. Leave another message reminding guests that pizza boxes can be recycled and, once again, which bin they should be placed in.

Being direct—Your guests have probably selected your hotel because it is considered a green, environmentally responsible hotel. When using the messaging technique just mentioned, be direct. Remind guests how many pizza boxes are sent to landfills and incinerators each year and how detrimental this can be to the environment. In other words, don’t beat around the bush, be direct and tell guests this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In vending machine rooms—What’s a pizza without a nice cold drink? Placing posters and messages in the vending room encouraging guests to recycle their pizza boxes is another option.

The bottom line is that now that we know the facts about pizza boxes and that they can be recycled, the goal is to ensure green hotel guests get the message out. It’s good for the environment and one more step you can take to show that your hotel is genuinely focused on green and environmental issues.

About the Author

Michael Wilson is AFFLINK’S Senior Vice President of Business Development, a distributor membership organization made up of more than 600 distributors in North America. He has been with the organization since 2006 and provides strategic leadership for distributor members around the country. In his free time, Michael works with the Wounded Warrior Project, helping veterans heal and get their lives back on track. He can be reached through his company website at www.afflink.com.

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