Take Your Recycling to the Next Level: What to Do with Pizza Boxes & Other Tips

“What do you do with your pizza boxes?” we asked each other at a recent Environmental Sustainability Council meeting. Going around as a group, we heard a variety of responses: “I always thought you couldn’t recycle them because of the grease,” “I just throw them in the recycling and hope they take ‘em,” and “I tear off the tops of the boxes and recycle the tops because they don’t get grease on them.”

Clearly, we realized, pizza boxes are a gray area when it comes to recycling: a small sampling of committed recyclers had heard differing advice on how to treat them. Do you go with the “wish-cycle” approach–“I’ll throw it in the recycling and if they can recycle it, that’s great!–or the conservative approach–“better throw this away so it doesn’t mess up the recycling sorting process”?

To find the definitive answer, we spoke with the Taylor Greely, Municipal & Public Sector Representative for Rumpke Waste & Recycling. Although Hilliard’s recycling collection is currently managed by Local Waste Services, Rumpke still serves as the endpoint for the contents of Hilliard’s blue bins as they manage the processing of the Local Waste-collected recycling materials. Taylor is on the front lines of the massive communication challenge that is trying to educate a community about what should and should not go in their blue bins.

Here is a list of tricky recycling items and what you should do with them to help you take your home recycling to the next level.

  1. Pizza Box. It’s all about the grease and the food particles, Taylor says. If your pizza box is free of these contaminants, you can recycle it. In practice, this means that it often is just the top of the box that can be ripped off and recycled.
  2. Peanut Butter Jar. Peanut butter jars take a good deal of effort to get peanut butter-free enough for recycling. But if planning to recycle these, your jars should be completely free of peanut butter.
  3. Bottle Cap. A plastic cap on a plastic bottle can be recycled (please crush the bottle to a smaller size, if possible, says Taylor). A metal cap for a for a glass bottle, though, should be tossed in the garbage.(Note: When recycling a metal can with a metal lid, you can push the lid into the can so that they get sorted together.)
  4. Plastic Bag. Do not recycle in your blue bin! Plastic bags get tangled in the sorting machines at Rumpke. Instead, find a Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Kroger’s, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Wal-Mart or other location that will accept plastic bags and plastic film for recycling.
  5. (Note: other “tanglers” that are to be avoided at all costs because they disrupt the sorting process: chains, ropes, hose, tinsel, VHS, clothing & sheets.)
  6. Lithium Batteries: Never place batteries in your recycling. Lithium batteries from old cell phones, tablets and yard equipment can easily cause a fire. Check with SWACO for appropriate disposal methods.
  7. Plastic that Is Not a Bottle or Jug. Plastic bottles and jugs are recyclable because they are formed by a process called blow molding. This process gives these bottles and jugs certain properties that make them reusable. Other pieces of plastic, such as a yogurt container, are formed using injection molding. This process renders them non-recyclable, at least through Rumpke. Taylor says: Look for a bottleneck—if the plastic has a bottleneck, it is blow molded and can be put in the blue bin.

Following these tips will help Rumpke effectively sort your recycling materials. It will also help ensure that Rumpke’s recycling bales are not rejected due to grease or food particles, continuing the mutually beneficial collection and selling of recyclable materials.

Use these tips and share with your neighbors to take Hilliard to the next level when it comes to recycling education!


  1. Allison Hastie says:

    A lot of plastic containers — sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc — have the recycling symbol on them. Are you saying we cannot actually put these in the recycling bins? Also, what about cereal or cracker boxes? They’re cardboard but I don’t always find a recycle symbol on them.

  2. Jeff says:

    Seriously, no yogurt containers? That’s terrible! So many products come in those style of containers. WHERE can they be recycled and does Rumpke plan on accepting in the future? We need more comprehensive recycling to cover more than just jugs.

  3. Julie says:

    West side food pantry takes plastic grocery bags as donations for their customers to shop with!