Green Hotels Association
    December 2015  


PIZZA-BOX COMPOSTING
GETS COLLEGE TRY!

College students love pizza. They also love recycling. But their pizza boxes are virtually unrecyclable, thanks to the cheesy, greasy residue left behind on the cardboard bottoms. What's a school to do? At North Carolina State University in Raleigh, the answer is the Pizza-Box Composting Project -- dumpsters placed at eight locations around campus that since early last year have helped turn approximately 16,000 grease-stained boxes into fertilizer.

At their recent Homecoming, sophomore volunteer Wesley Phan moved a composting bin in front of a trash can so that it would be noticed by those disposing of their individual pizza boxes during the game. “It’s a strategy,” he said. “You force them to think.” Colleges nationwide are in an arms race to out-green each other, as they endeavor to appeal to Generation Z, or those defined as coming after the Millennial generation, by touting their improvements in saving water (low-flow dorm shower heads) and plastic (compostable forks and reusable to-go containers in dining halls).

But pesky pizza boxes continue to pile up in dumpsters and dorm hallway -- despite high profile campus recycling efforts -- because cardboard is recycled in a water-based system, and water and oily pizza residue don’'t mix.

The problem goes well beyond campus and extends to cities across the US including San Jose, CA, and Washington, DC. Industry giant Domino’s Pizza delivers about 200 million pizzas a year nationwide, but says very few of those boxes are recycled because of municipal bans against recycling soiled cardboard. “It’s not something we can control on our end,” said Jenny Fouracre-Petko, Domino's spokeswoman.

Some schools encourage students to take half steps and rip off the unsullied top of a used pizza box and recycle it. The greasy bottoms then go in the trash, adding to the nation’s waste and taking up space in US landfills.

A campaign by the anti-littering Keep America Beautiful organization touts recycling half a box “as better than none.” But the non-profit group says while the US recycles about 63.5% of paper, people still trash enough paper and cardboard each year to fill 26,700 football fields in material three-feet deep.

Some other schools, like Smith College in Northampton, MA, have experimented with plastic pizza delivery containers that are usable hundreds of times. Smith dropped the newfangled containers, which can be expensive and unwieldy. Miami University in Oxford, OH, ended its dorm-based pizza-box composting program last year. “It did not work so well,” said spokeswoman Claire Wagner, as few students participated and custodians struggled to keep the bins neat.

Like many schools, NC State in Raleigh has been composting for several years, by having cafeteria staff scrape plates of leftover food into giant bins. Last year the school added pizza-box composting by placing dumpsters with giant pizza emblems outside dorms.

Recycling manager Analis Fulghum said the key to NC State's program is sending the boxes to a commercial composting facility large enough to absorb copious amounts of cardboard in its mix of discarded food, egg shells and coffee grounds. The school pays to dump the pizza boxes at the composting site, but says the program nearly breaks even because of a reduction of trips to the landfill.

The biggest challenge was keeping stray plastic out of the composting bins. One piece of plastic can get shredded into a composting mix and break into hundreds of tiny pieces. Contamination is a huge problem.

Many people have pizza several times a week. It’s best to keep your cheese off your pizza boxes and recycle them, suggesting removal of the pizza from the box along with any underlying wax paper. Pizza-box composting should be praised, and consumers would do well to rip up pizza boxes and add the shreds as necessary carbon material in the backyard compost pile.

Bauerlein, Valerie, Pizza Box Composting Gets College Try,
The Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/
articles/pizza-box-composting-gets-college-try-1446420961

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GREEN IDEA!

It’s best to keep your cheese off your pizza boxes and recycle them, suggesting removal of the pizza from the box along with any underlying wax paper. Pizza-box composting should be praised, and consumers would do well to rip up pizza boxes and add the shreds to the compost pile.
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