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As an longtime gardener, I hate to toss something in the trash or recycling bin that could have instead gone in my compost heap to help out my garden later in the year.
But what about the leftover boxes from last night’s pizza dinner? Can you compost pizza boxes?
Cardboard pizza boxes can be composted, but careful attention must be paid to the condition of the boxes. Clean boxes, or those with minor grease stains, can be ripped or shredded and placed in the compost bin, but greasy boxes, including those with food remnants in them, should be thrown away.
Grease stains, dried toppings and cheese, stickers affixed to the package, and even the inked branding of your favorite pizza chain: these factors can play a role in the compostability of pizza boxes.
To clear things up, I’ll provide a quick overview of the following topics:
- a simple, step-by-step guide to composting pizza boxes.
- instructions for handling greasy boxes and those with stickers affixed to them.
- a few thoughts about the inked branding used on pizza boxes from Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars.
Before we slice into the details (bad pun alert!), here’s the compost container I keep in my kitchen as well as the utility blade I use to rip up pizza boxes and other cardboard:
Now that that’s covered, let’s jump into things!
Can Pizza Boxes Go in the Compost?
Unlike veggie scraps, a pizza box’s journey from your dining room to the compost isn’t as simple as tossing it straight into the pile or bin.
As a general rule, the condition of the box matters most when deciding if it’s fit for composting.
A clean pizza box (or one with only a little grease) is perfect for the compost heap. Like other cardboard, it’ll decompose and provide lots of “brown” matter to balance out the “greens” you’ve likely added from your kitchen.
Unfortunately, if the box is too greasy or has chunks of cheese or other food remnants stuck to it, you shouldn’t compost it.
Here’s a quick step-by-step overview of what I do when composting pizza boxes:
- Take a look at the pizza box. You’re looking for how much grease and cheese residue there is. If it’s more than a few spots or a thin layer, it might be too much for your compost.
- Clean out any pizza remnants. Before composting, make sure to empty any leftover crumbs. You can add non-greasy pizza crusts to your compost pile, but bury them in the middle since food remnants can attract pests.
- Remove any greasy cardboard pieces. For boxes that are only slightly greasy, you can rip off the greasy parts and only compost the clean sections. These greasy pieces won’t break down well and can upset the balance in your compost bin. Trash them!
- Remove all stickers and plastic. Pull off any promotional stickers or waxy paper and discard anything that’s plastic. These won’t decompose and can introduce unwanted chemicals into your compost.
- Rip, cut, or shred the cardboard. Smaller pieces decompose faster, so rip, cut, or shred the pizza box into smaller sections. Aim for pieces no larger than a standard postcard for best results, but I tend to rip mine into strips since that’s less time-consuming.
- Add “greens” to balance out the “browns.” Now that you’ve removed all greasy sections and food remnants, you can add your pizza box pieces to your compost pile. Remember that cardboard is a “brown” compost material, meaning it provides carbon. To balance out the carbon from the pizza boxes, add some “greens” to your compost pile (I personally prefer kitchen scraps!) to add some nitrogen to the mix.
- Spray with water and turn the compost: After adding your pizza box pieces and greens, and if your compost pile is a little dry, spray your compost with some water to wet down the newly added cardboard, then give your compost a good turn. This helps cover the damp cardboard pieces and mixes everything together, promoting faster decomposition.
- Monitor moisture levels: Keep an eye on the moisture levels in your compost as time goes by. If it’s wet, let it sit and dry a bit. If it’s dry, spray it with some water. The pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge—moist but not dripping wet.
Composting pizza boxes may seem overly time-consuming, but with these steps, you can easily turn your pizza party remnants into awesome compost.
Please note that it’s all about maintaining the balance of browns and greens, keeping the right conditions in and around your compost pile, and patience. The reward is rich, nutritious compost that your plants will love next season!
Can You Put Greasy or Inked Pizza Boxes in the Compost?
Pizza boxes with light grease stains are fair game for the compost bin. That minimal amount of grease won’t cause any problems, and the cardboard will decompose efficiently.
The key is “light.” A small splatter here and there won’t cause any harm.
However, if your pizza box looks like it hosted a wrestling match between the cheese and the toppings, you’ll want to toss it. Those kinds of boxes can attract unwanted pests to your compost and may cause problems as the greasy oils mix with everything else in the compost pile.
Whether the bottom of the pizza box is too greasy or not, the top of the box is usually clean and grease-free. You can tear off this part, rip it up, and toss it into the compost bin.
The bottom half, heavy with grease, can the. Be tossed in the trash.
Remember, it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to composting pizza and pizza boxes.
When it comes to ink, you’ve probably noticed that most pizza boxes are covered in colored ink, the kind of branding that stores typically prefer.
That’s bad to compost, right?
Actually, most pizza chains have adopted soy-based inks, which means that your pizza boxes, no matter how much ink they have on them, are perfectly fine for the compost.
The soy-based inks will deteriorate and decompose, leaving no harsh chemicals in your compost.
Just be careful with any boxes that have waxy, paper advertisements or stickers affixed to them.
Those won’t decompose properly, so you’ll want to rip them off before shredding the cardboard and putting it in your compost bin.
Can You Recycle Greasy Pizza Boxes?
Unlike the compost pile, the recycling bin seems like a safer solution when it comes to pizza boxes, right?
But here, too, there’s some debate.
Some organizations, like the American Forest and Paper Association and the Sierra Club, advocate for recycling all pizza boxes, arguing that even the greasy ones have a place in the recycling process.
So what’s a pizza-loving composter to do?
My advice is to check with your local municipality since there’s so much disagreement on this point.
Many cities have specific guidelines for pizza box disposal. Some may have advanced recycling centers that can handle a bit of grease, while others may strictly forbid it.
Reach out to your local officials to get the specifics.
Ultimately, composting pizza boxes doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Just take a close look at your boxes and follow the simple guide I provided above.
That way, you’ll be reusing and recycling as much as possible, cutting down on what you would have otherwise sent to the landfill.
Want to read more about composting and reusing kitchen leftovers in your garden? Check out these articles for additional info!
- Is Your Leftover Pizza Compost-Friendly?
- 18 Best Materials to Put in the Bottom of Your Raised Beds
- 40 Cheap and Easy Ways to Fill Your Raised Garden Beds
- 50 Plants You Should Never Compost (and Those You Should)
- Can You Put Bark or Mulch in the Bottom of a Raised Bed?
- Do Raised Beds Need Yearly Compost? (Here’s What to Do)
- Don’t Compost These Weeds (30+ Plants to Avoid)