AUSTIN (KXAN) — Think outside the pizza box when you recycle this Super Bowl weekend.

Austin-based nonprofit WasteLessWednesday is launching a campaign this week encouraging people to recycle their pizza boxes after the big game on Sunday — when many will be discarded.

Stacks of pizza boxes at Home Slice Pizza (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Millions of the cardboard boxes end up in landfills, the nonprofit said. It hopes to reduce that number.

WasteLessWednesday partnered with Austin-based pizzeria Home Slice Pizza and Austin Resource Recovery to get the word out locally. The latter is the city’s solid waste collection and recycling department, which provides curbside composting bins that Austin residents can toss their pizza boxes into.

Austin Resource Recovery recently completed the last phase of its multi-year implementation to single-family households last month, WasteLessWednesday said. You can check the curbside composting bin collection schedule on its website, or via the “Austin Recycles” app available on Apple and Android devices.

Home Slice Pizza serves more than 130,000 pizzas per year, Shane Kullberg-Ronder said. He is the front house manager at Home Slice’s North Loop location. To complete that number of pizza orders, the company purchases an average of 2,500-3,000 pizza boxes every week.

Kullberg-Ronder is excited about the new composting and recycling options for its takeout customers.

“Pizza boxes are particularly confusing. I know at home, I’m the same way, ‘Can I recycle this? Can I not?’ And that’s why we’re so excited for WasteLessWednesday bringing about that education to people and letting people know, here in the city of Austin, if it just has a little bit of grease on that or some grease on the box, that you can go ahead and recycle or compost that — a pizza box — and that way it’s not going to the landfill, and that’s recyclable and reusable materials.”

The hometown pizzeria has been recycling pizza boxes at its restaurants with “Break It Down,” a recycling and composting service for restaurants. They also have containers on-site next to their garbage bins where patrons can stack pizza boxes after they’re finished eating. Photos of each can be seen in the slideshow below:

If you’re interested in ordering pizza from Home Slice Pizza for a Super Bowl party this weekend, they do ask to order ahead to secure a timeslot. They’re filling fast, Kullberg-Ronder said. You can order online on their website. They also offer outdoor seating to eat at the restaurant.

Tips for recycling pizza boxes

Austinites who live in multi-family complexes like apartments should check with their property managers and local collection programs about recycling pizza boxes, WasteLessWednesday said. Recycling is different everywhere.

The nonprofit broke down each scenario:

  • Some communities or apartment complexes allow you to recycle pizza boxes. If they do, be sure the box is completely empty of crusts, liners and the little white, plastic “pizza saver” before tossing it into the recycling bin.
  • If your community or complex allows you to compost pizza boxes, please leave the crusts in, but remove liners and other inorganic materials like the plastic saver.
  • If your place accepts corrugated cardboard for recycling but doesn’t explicitly welcome pizza boxes, you can tear off the lid and throw away the bottom if it’s soiled.
  • If where you live allows you to toss things in your bin that aren’t recyclable, which is one of the industry’s biggest challenges, it’s good to remember: “If in doubt, throw it out.”

Pizza box study findings

“For years, we’ve been told, ‘Well, if you’ve got a greasy, cheesy pizza box, throw it in the trash because it’s soiled and will contaminate our recycling stream,’ but corrugated cardboard is a very valuable commodity,” WasteLessWednesday Founding Co-Director Valerie Salinas-Davis said. “Then there’s the neat trick that, ‘Well, you can tear off the lid. That’s clean, do recycle that’ — a lot of places still say that.”

Messaging on this has changed. Recent pizza box studies have caught Salinas-Davis’ attention.

The nonprofit quoted a WestRock commissioned 2020 national study in their press release. The corrugated packaging manufacturer concluded that despite a little grease and cheese, “there is no significant technical reason to prohibit post-consumer pizza boxes from the recycle stream.”

Home Slice Pizza box (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

The Recycling Partnership followed up that study with its own national consumer study. It showed 70% of Americans say pizza boxes should be recycled.

It’s now a matter of educating the industry and localizing proper information, Salinas-Davis said.

“Right now, a lot of local recycling companies or municipalities say they can’t do it yet. And so it’s a matter of not just educating consumers the right way to do it locally but also educate processors that, ‘Yes you can recycle the whole used pizza takeout box.’

The WestRock study is endorsed by the American Forest and Paper Association, whose membership
processes cardboard for recycling. WestRock estimates 3 billion pizza boxes are used on the U.S. market every year but points out 73% of the U.S. population has access to recycling programs that could accept the containers.

‘EnviroGifs’ campaign

WasteLessWednesday will release one environmentally-minded GIF every week during its campaign. The goal is to help Americans understand how to divert pizza boxes from landfills.

A GIF used for the nonprofit’s campaign (Wasteless Wednesday)

The nonprofit offers a library of “EnviroGifs” that can be adapted and shared by recycling and sustainability coordinators, businesses and consumers.

“When it comes to revelations about the potential for widespread pizza box recycling, our tomato-red ‘Winning EnviroGif’ can be used to serve up the correct tips for any locale,” Patti Englebert said.

Englebert, WasteLessWednesday’s co-director, coordinates the production of GIFs, posters and other creative resources for the nonprofit.

You can view the library of GIFs, follow updates, and suggest future tips on WasteLessWednesday’s website.