What To Do With Pizza Boxes, Soda Cups, And Other Food-Stained Recyclables

If you're trying to recycle as much as you can, it can be frustrating to find recyclable material like cardboard soaked with a non-recyclable material like grease. It seems like a waste to just throw out the box, though, and the same goes for other recyclable materials that are contaminated by food or drink. However, there are strategies you can use to ensure that as much of the material is put to good use as is possible. Here's a look at why you have to keep food waste out of the recycling stream and two ways to ensure the food waste doesn't actually end up as waste in a landfill.

Food Contamination

When materials like paper and cardboard are recycled, they're chopped up into tiny bits. Recyclers add water to the mess to form a slurry. If there's any food waste in there -- especially greasy food waste -- the slurry can't form properly. It will have pockets of oil in it, and the entire batch of slurry will be unusable. Even if the food waste isn't greasy, it's the wrong type of material to have in a paper/cardboard slurry, and the slurry will still be rendered unusable. All of the slurry then has to be thrown out and go in a landfill because it's too difficult to remove the pockets of oil or the tiny bits of food.

Unstained Portions

Your first tactic for dealing with this is finding all of the unstained portions of the material. So, for a pizza box as an example, you'd rip out the unstained, non-greasy portions of the box. Those portions you can throw into the recycling bin. Do remove labels; many adhesives used on labels aren't recyclable, and they'll form small, sticky masses in the recycling slurry (which would render the slurry unusable).

Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Recycling

As for the parts of the box in the example that have grease soaked into them, look into organic waste composting or anaerobic digestion. Paper that is soiled with food -- not just pizza grease, but any food or drink matter, like a paper cup stained with dried punch -- is part of a larger group of materials called organic waste. Other materials in this group include landscaping waste and other wasted food. You can take these materials to recycling companies to have them composted. Some centers offer the aforementioned anaerobic digestion, in which the waste is converted into biogas, which can be used as a fuel for generators on farms.

Composting and biogas production can be so effective that California actually passed a law requiring businesses that produced 8 or more pounds per week of organic waste to send that waste to be composted or digested. The state is trying to cut down on methane production in landfills, and the hope is that this requirement will reduce the landfill problem while allowing the waste to be put to use.

If you want to know more about how to deal with organic waste, contact a recycling company near you, such as C-TEC Compactors & Balers. The company may be able to take the waste, or it could be able to point you toward city-run facilities or other private establishments.