It burns your thighs and yet emits a smell so mouthwatering you can ignore the grease stain it leaves on your jeans. The pizza box is a simple creation with a complicated reputation: On the one hand, it carries pizza to its destination, and for that we are grateful. On the other, since this box hasn’t changed much since its invention, the design leaves a lot to be desired.
A recent article in The Atlantic by Saahil Desai has resurfaced the issue of the pizza box and its many shortcomings, and it’s well worth a read.
One of the biggest problems with the vessel to which we entrust our slices, Desai explains, is that as a pizza emits steam, the box traps in that moisture, causing the pizza to become soggy. On top of that, the pizza loses heat the longer it stays in the box. Unfortunately, someone has yet to invent a better way to get a hot, fresh pie from the restaurant to your table without it losing at least some of its integrity.
Pizza boxes are also the worst takeout container because they do not lend themselves well to storing leftovers. Most other takeout food containers are at least somewhat convenient to just put in the refrigerator and come back to later. Pizza boxes are clunky, take up a lot of space, and usually don’t protect the pizza from growing stale.
There is a long-standing debate about whether pizza boxes can be recycled. At the crux of the argument is the grease that soaks into the box from the pizza. Does oil render cardboard unrecyclable?
“Once soiled, the paper cannot be recycled because the paper fibers will not be able to be separated from the oils during the pulping process,” Stanford University’s recycling guidelines explain. “Food is a major source of contamination in paper recycling.”
However, in September 2022, Domino’s ran a campaign refuting this limitation on pizza box recycling, Fast Company reported. Domino’s box supplier, WestRock, commissioned a study whose findings showed that even when grease made up 20% of the cardboard’s weight, the dirtiest of pizza boxes can make it through the recycling stream with no loss of strength in the paper. Domino’s then made recyclability a main part of the boxes’ design, and created a website to guide consumers in box disposal.
For being a basic piece of cardboard, the pizza box continues to court controversy. Yes, its design does have many flaws, but until someone invents a better mode of transport for our cheesy, saucy feasts, we’ll just have to accept that pizza boxes kind of suck, and that’s okay.