To recycle pizza boxes

16 03 2009

When people talk about green living in general, and more specifically what they do for the environment, they usually start by saying that they recycle. They are proud of that they don’t throw all of their garbage in the same bin. Well, sure, recycling is a good way to live green – but it shouldn’t be the starting point. Living green should begin on a totally different level.

Firstly, we should stop buying stuff that we don’t need. In order to lead more environmental friendly lives we have to stop overconsuming. Source reduction is therefore the first thing you should try do achieve. On the plus side, by doing this you will also save money, since you will only be buying things you really need, or want. This is also really zen – cleaning out your house, and then resist the urge to fill it with new stuff, will give you a clean, spacious home – and you will have done something really good for the environment (provided that the old stuff you throw out is reused in some way).

The second step is to reuse. So instead of throwing out and buying new, you should try to find a new way to use the stuff in. Be creative ;)

Recycling is found on third place in the “waste hierarchy” (see picture below). This means that you can significantly reduce the amount of things you recycle, just by following steps 1 and 2.

waste-management-hierarchy1Image from Fairfax County Solid Waste Management

So, how to recycle? There are some things that I know people don’t think about. Did you know that you shouldn’t throw cardboard with grease/oil/food stains on it in the bin for paper/cardboard? That is: any paper product stained with grease or food is not recyclable (unless you remove the stained portion)! This effectively means that you shouldn’t recycle pizza boxes that have grease on them – which I know many people do. Remove the stained portion and throw it away before recycling the rest of the box.

Why is this? Because paper products that are recycled are mixed with water and turned into a slurry, and any grease on the cardboard causes oil to form on top of the slurry (since oil and water don’t mix *duh*) – which causes the entire batch to be ruined. For the same reason used napkins, used paper plates, used paper towels etc are not recyclable. So if you’re one of the many people that recycle they pizza boxes, thinking they’re doing a good thing – think again! By recycling that one pizza box you might actually be destroying a whole batch of recycled paper and cardboard! According to some estimations, the cost of irresponsible recycling is $700 million per year!

So – go find out the recycling rules for where you live so that you know how to recycle correctly :)


The Pizza box mystery, Earth911

Waste Hierarchy: Who’s on Top in the Game of Trash? Earth911

For more tips on cleaning out your house to make it more “zen”, see:

15 Great Decluttering Tips, ZenHabits

How to Declutter, ZenHabits

18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess, ZenHabits