Can you recycle pizza boxes in Boise?

Quick Answer

The quick answer is that in Boise, pizza boxes can be recycled if they have minimal grease and cheese residue. Pizza boxes with large amounts of food scraps should be thrown in the trash.

Overview of Pizza Box Recycling in Boise

Like many cities, Boise encourages residents to recycle as much as possible to reduce waste going to the landfill. However, the city recognizes that not all materials can be recycled if they are excessively soiled with food or grease. This includes pizza boxes, which are often contaminated with grease, cheese, and other toppings.

Boise provides a few guidelines on recycling pizza boxes:

  • Pizza boxes can be recycled if they have no food scraps or grease stains
  • Boxes with a small amount of grease or cheese spots can be recycled, but all food debris should be removed first
  • Heavily soiled boxes with large grease stains or lots of cheese/toppings should be thrown in the trash

Essentially, clean pizza boxes can be placed in the recycling bin, but residents should use judgment on boxes with minimal food waste versus those that are heavily soiled. Scrape out any debris and wipe away grease if possible. When in doubt, it’s best to throw it out.

Reasons for Limits on Grease and Food Waste

There are a couple reasons why pizza boxes with excessive grease, cheese, and other food scraps cannot be recycled:

Contamination of other recyclables

Grease and food debris from soiled pizza boxes can smear onto other paper products like cardboard, newspapers, magazines, and paper bags. Once contaminated, these items may be rejected during the recycling process.

Equipment damage

Grease can gum up equipment and machinery used to sort and process recyclables. Food scraps can also damage equipment not designed to handle such waste.

No market for soiled boxes

There is very little market or use for cardboard/paper materials soaked through with grease and food wastes. Companies cannot accept heavily soiled boxes to make new recycled paper products.

For these reasons, Boise only allows clean or lightly soiled pizza boxes in the recycling stream. Heavily soiled boxes have to be thrown away with regular trash.

How Are Pizza Boxes Recycled in Boise?

Once pizza boxes make it into the recycling bin in Boise, here is what happens:


Pizza boxes are transported to the city’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they go through an initial sorting process. Machinery and workers screen out any non-recyclable materials.


After sorting, the pizza boxes are shredded into small pieces along with other recyclable paper products.


The shredded paper materials, including pizza boxes, are then cleaned to remove any contaminants like food scraps or grease.

Processing into pulp

Next, the shredded and cleaned paper undergoes processing where it is mixed with water and turned into pulp.

Paper making

The pulp is utilized by paper mills and manufacturers to produce new recycled paper products like cardboard, office paper, newspaper, etc.

So in summary, cleaned pizza boxes in Boise are recycled by shredding, cleaning, pulping, and then remanufacturing the fibers to make fresh paper goods.

Tips for Properly Recycling Pizza Boxes

Follow these tips when dealing with used pizza boxes to recycle properly:

  • Never attempt to recycle pizza boxes with ample unremoved food, cheese, or grease
  • Pick off any cheese chunks, toppings, or hardened grease spots
  • Use a paper towel to wipe any pools or smears of grease
  • If grease has soaked through the box, trash it
  • Consider cutting out heavily soiled sections and only recycling cleaner parts of the box
  • When doubtful if box is clean enough, play it safe and throw it away
  • Fold and flatten any boxes to conserve recycling bin space

Following these guidelines will help ensure Boise residents comply with pizza box recycling standards. Minimal food waste is acceptable, but anything beyond that should go to waste disposal.

What Kind of Pizza Boxes Can Be Recycled?

For the most part, any standard pizza box can be recycled as long as it’s sufficiently clean. This includes:

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Boxes with grease-resistant liners
  • Stuffed crust pizza boxes
  • Delivery pizza boxes
  • Take-n-bake pizza boxes
  • Frozen pizza boxes

However, there are some exceptions:


  • Boxes lined with plastic or wax cannot be recycled due to plastic contamination
  • Boxes soaked through with grease should always be trashed
  • Boxes with an excessive amount of cheese or toppings should go in the garbage

So standard paperboard pizza boxes are fine for recycling if cleaned properly, butplastic-lined boxes or those with lots of food waste are a no-go.

Myths and Misconceptions About Pizza Box Recycling

There are some common myths and misconceptions about recycling pizza boxes:

Myth: The boxes can never be recycled if there’s any grease or cheese present

This is false – boxes can be recycled if they are lightly soiled with some grease or cheese spots. Just be sure to wipe or pick off any food debris first.

Myth: Only the clean lid of the box can be recycled, not the soiled bottom

In fact, both the lid and bottom of lightly soiled boxes can be fully recycled together. Simply remove any chunks or puddles of grease/cheese from the bottom as well.

Myth: Pizza boxes will ruin the recycling process if there’s any oil on them

A small amount of oil residue is acceptable and will not ruin an entire recycling batch. Just don’t attempt to recycle boxes dripping with grease.

Myth: The grease-resistant liner prevents the box from being recycled

This type of liner is fine for recycling as it’s still paper-based. Only plastic-coated liners like wax make the box non-recyclable.

By understanding what can really be recycled when it comes to pizza boxes, Boise residents can properly dispose of them while still minimizing waste sent to the landfill.

How Much Waste Can Be Saved by Recycling Pizza Boxes?

Pizza is incredibly popular nationwide, which means recycling pizza boxes can make a significant impact on waste diversion from landfills.

According to the National Pizza Association, about 3 billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. annually. The typical pizza box weighs around 100 grams. That translates to 300 million kilograms of potential pizza box waste per year.

If just half of those pizza boxes were recycled instead of trashed, that would equal 150 million kilograms of cardboard kept out of landfills. And beyond pizza boxes, this waste diversion would also save the additional cardboard waste from pizza outer packaging and delivery materials.

In Boise specifically, residents consume around 17,500 pounds of pizza each day according to statistics from ZipList. If even just 30% of the associated pizza boxes were recycled, over 1.5 million pounds of cardboard could be diverted from the landfill annually.

So although individual pizza boxes may not seem significant, multiply that by millions of pizzas sold each day across the country and recycling this waste stream can greatly benefit the environment. Boise residents have an opportunity to make an impact by properly recycling what would otherwise be trash.

Finding Other Recycling and Waste Reduction Solutions

While recycling soiled pizza boxes may be limited, there are other solutions Boise residents can consider to further reduce pizza-related waste:


Rather than immediately recycling or trashing, consider reusing pizza boxes first. Clean boxes can store leftover pizza in the fridge or freezer. Get creative and reuse them for arts and crafts projects, DIY furniture, or storage bins.


Pizza boxes with excessive grease or cheese that cannot be recycled could potentially be composted instead of landfilled. Some facilities may accept compostable paper products like pizza boxes.


Cut down on waste from the start by ordering only the needed number of pizzas. Leftover slices lead to more boxes being wasted. Or buy in bulk when possible and freeze pizzas for later rather than stocking up on single-serving boxes.

No box

For dine-in situations, request no box and avoid waste altogether. Or bring your own reusable container for takeout rather than accepting cardboard boxes and packets.

Taking these approaches can further minimize the impact of pizza waste beyond just recycling efforts.

The Bottom Line

Here is a summary of the key points on recycling pizza boxes in Boise:

  • Pizza boxes are recyclable if they have minimal grease/cheese and no food scraps
  • Heavily soiled boxes should go in the trash
  • Recycling properly diverts waste from landfills
  • Most paperboard pizza boxes can be recycled if cleaned
  • Plastic-lined boxes cannot be recycled
  • Wiping grease and removing food debris allows boxes to be recycled
  • Consider reusing or composting boxes whenever possible

Boise residents can make an environmental impact by learning what can and cannot be recycled when it comes to pizza boxes in particular. Be sure to fully clean boxes and check for any plastic liners before placing in the recycling bin. With some care taken, this simple effort can greatly benefit the city’s overall waste minimization efforts.