When college students return to campus, pizza is often on the menu.
In Ulster County, when those empty pizza boxes are ready for disposal they usually go directly into the trash. Just across the Hudson River in Dutchess County, however, those boxes have been considered recyclable since at least 2013.
According to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency website, “Pizza boxes are widely considered to be not recyclable because they are typically very soiled by food and grease.” The boxes “are not accepted in the recycling program at UCRRA or at the town transfer stations in Ulster County.”
But, Ulster County recycling director Angelina Peone said even in Ulster County items that are considered recyclable “can vary a lot,” depending on whether consumers use their municipal transfer stations, city waste haulers or private carriers.
She said recyclables taken to the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency facility at 999 Flatbush Road in Kingston can not include pizza boxes. So, if you use a private hauler, be sure to ask what can and can not be recycled by them.
“A lot has to do with the markets and the companies purchasing [materials for recycling from Ulster County] and the desirability of products they want in the mix,” she said.
“Oftentimes, pizza boxes are very contaminated with grease and food scraps,” which degrade the quality of the fiber that can be produced from the mix provided by municipalities “and we have to pass the cost down to our users,” Peone said.
Even the county’s commercial composting facility is unable to accept pizza boxes because they are often treated with chemicals that make them grease resistant and therefore not compostable, she added.
But the Dutchess County Resource Recovery Agency includes pizza boxes among a list of recyclable items.
A July 28 “Sierra Magazine” article titled “Yes, You Can Recycle Your Pizza Boxes: The world’s oldest shibboleth bites the crust,” calls pizza box bans “advice from the dawn of curbside recycling.”
“For years, conscientious recyclers followed this advice, and tens of billions of pizza boxes were sent to landfills and incinerators<” the article stated. “The intentions were good, but it turns out that the advice wasn’t. New research reveals that, so long as you remove all the pizza, the cardboard container that held your Veggie Supreme can be readily recycled into something new.”
Sierra Magazine cites research from the WestRock recycling company claiming that three billion pizza boxes are sold annually in the United States.
“This is major news for recycling advocates.” the article continued. “Pizza boxes aren’t the biggest slice of the American recycling pie, but they’re an under-utilized resource.”
Peone said pizza boxes amount to a “very small amount” of the 130,000 tons of garbage processed by Ulster County annually. “For recycling to be sustainable in the long term, you can’t ignore that there’s this economic component,” she said, adding, “we’re getting better at it every day.”
For more information on what can and cannot be recycled in Ulster County, call the Recycling Hotline at (845) 336-0600. Information is available Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.