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Solving the pizza problem

After discovering that the majority of people are unaware that pizza boxes tainted with food cannot be recycled, food delivery company Deliveroo came up with a solution

For many, there’s nothing better than having your dinner delivered. Whether it’s Saturday night in front of the TV, a midweek treat, or a sudden bout of laziness, food delivery is big business in the UK, with the market expected to be worth over £10bn by 2021 (MCA, 2018).

Of course, with all that food comes a lot of packaging, and many people are delighted that, thanks to its ability to protect and insulate, and potential to be recycled, that packaging is usually cardboard. But the majority of Brits are unaware that any boxes with food still in it or heavily stained with grease would contaminate the recycling chain and is therefore unrecyclable.

Packaging perception

Food delivery company Deliveroo commissioned a poll recently, which asked the public a number of questions about the recycling of packaging. They discovered that while 73% said they were well informed about recycling, the majority (58%) didn’t know that pizza boxes with food left in them cannot be recycled.

Those figures get worse for millennials – the demographic driving the boom in food delivery ­– with 66% of 18-24 year olds not realising that food packaging tainted with food or an excess of grease can’t be put into the recycling bin (against 34% who knew). Considering that Domino’s sold over half a million pizzas in just one night last December, that’s potentially a lot of cardboard that cannot be recycled.

“Many people are surprised to find out how the food from your pizza can hinder your ability to recycle the box after you have eaten”

According to the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), empty pizza boxes are fully recyclable, as long as there are no food residues. They add that if more than 50% of the packaging is heavily stained, it may be better suited for other options. Similarly, The Recycling Association say that official guidelines allows stained pizza boxes to be collected and recycled via the municipal waste stream, but food particles are not permissible.

However, there is still a lot of discrepancy between local authorities as to whether they will accept oil-stained cardboard into their recycling systems, with some still banning greasy pizza boxes.

One solution

To help the problem, Deliveroo have produced 100,000 biodegradable greaseproof paper inserts for the pizza restaurants that use its service. These inserts will catch any food left from the pizza and prevent excess amounts of grease soaking into the base of the box.

“Many people are surprised to find out how the food from your pizza can hinder your ability to recycle the box after you have eaten,” says Deliveroo UK and Ireland Managing Director Dan Warne. “We hope that by working with our partners to make this small change and by helping to inform consumers, we will save your pizza box from landfill.”

Anne Main MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Prevention of Plastic Waste adds: “Not only will this increase the number of pizza boxes that are recycled, it will also help to educate more people about what can and can’t be recycled. Taking proactive steps like this will help to reduce the number of pizza boxes that would have been recycled from being put into general waste.”

More work needed

While pizza boxes caused some confusion, the Deliveroo research found that the British public were clearer on other recycling issues. More than 60% correctly said that deodorant, hairspray cans and empty bleach bottles can be recycled, while the majority knew that crisp packets (62%) and straws (52%) can’t.

However, 51% of Brits mistakenly believed that unrinsed shampoo bottles and food containers should be put into household recycling, while an equal proportion (47%) thought they can and can’t put plastic bags in the green bin.

It seems that in many areas of recycling, the message is getting through, but there’s still some work to be done.

Article by Sam Upton