Pizza Box Recycling Bins Are Here

May 16, 2024
Dining & Wine
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It’s always fun — and convenient — to bring pizza to a picnic or birthday party on a warm day in Central Park. That is, until it’s time to throw out the cardboard box, which requires shoving a square peg into the round hole of a recycling bin.

In an attempt to eliminate the fuss and the resulting mess, the Central Park Conservancy installed a new pizza-recycling bin last week near a popular picnic area behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art — a pilot effort that could lead to similar bins throughout the park. Park-goers can simply insert the box after removing any other trash inside, like plates, wax paper or any errant crescents of crusts.

“People want to do the right thing, they want to recycle, and we’re just giving them a better opportunity to do so,” said Betsy Smith, the conservancy’s president and chief executive.

Ms. Smith said that eating in the park surged during the pandemic, and pizza is a popular choice: Behind the museum on a sunny day, the park staff can pick up more than 100 cardboard boxes left around and atop the trash and recycling canisters. Courteous visitors often break down their boxes and stuff them into the bins, which only makes it harder to fit other trash.

The idea for the pizza-specific bin originated about two years ago with Margaret Asaro, the conservancy’s vice president of park maintenance and facilities, who said the staff told her “that the pizza boxes were a major issue to them.”

“It was not an efficient way for us to collect the trash,” Ms. Asaro said.

The park staff will monitor the new bin several times a day, she said, and collect boxes at least three times a day. After they’re sorted with other recyclables at the Mount, an area at the park’s north end, the city’s Department of Sanitation will pick them up.

The custom container, which cost about $1,500, can fit roughly 50 boxes but can accommodate more if boxes are compressed. (The effort may also help with the city’s mission to reduce the rat population.) After Labor Day, the conservancy will decide whether to install more bins.

In many cities, greasy pizza boxes cannot be recycled, but the city’s sanitation department has adapted its processes to deal with the extraordinary amount of pizza New Yorkers eat every year. The empty boxes can be recycled within days — sometimes even hours — of being thrown out, and then turned into rolls of paper, cardboard or new pizza boxes, said Vincent Gragnani, a spokesman for the department.

Park lovers like Jenny Frisch are excited about the new addition. On summer evenings, when her daughter comes home from summer camp, Ms. Frisch likes to buy some slices from the Marinara Pizza on the Upper East Side and eat it on a picnic blanket in the park. After playing catch with her daughter, Ms. Frisch said she takes the box to the recycling bin in her building, just to avoid piling more trash in the park.

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