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Because You Asked

Can You Recycle Frozen-Food Boxes?

By Recyclebank |

Frozen food boxes are similar to the boxes granola bars and other non-perishable snacks are packaged in, but one important detail changes everything.


Dear Recyclebank: Can You Recycle Frozen Food Boxes? –Melissa H.


Dear Melissa: Frozen-food boxes are made of poly-coated paperboard (sometimes called “plastic-coated” paperboard): A product made of paperboard, coated in a thin layer of plastic to prevent freezer burn, moisture leakage, and product degradation during use. While paperboard is regularly recycled worldwide, the thin layer of plastic used in frozen-food packaging prevents those packages from being regularly recycled. Before you put ice-pop and frozen-pizza boxes in with your other paper recyclables, call your local hauler to find out if they will accept them, because many haulers do not.

Poly-coated paperboard is an example of mixed-materials packaging, a product that contains a combination of different materials. As is generally the case with mixed-materials packaging, both materials used to make frozen-food boxes are recyclable, but they are layered in such a way that it becomes difficult to separate them during the recycling process. Waste Management is one recycler that accepts poly-coated paperboard for recycling. They use a process called hydro-pulping to separate the polyethylene from the paper fibers and then recycle the materials separately.

Wax-coated cardboard is another mixed-material packaging product that is similar to, and often confused with, poly-coated paperboard. You can differentiate the two materials by scratching the coating; if the coating is gouged or comes away easily, it is coated in a wax, not plastic. Similar to poly-coated paperboard, wax-coated cardboard it is rarely recyclable. One distinct difference is that wax-coated cardboard may be compostable, though only if the material’s coating is made of a compostable wax such as soybean or bees wax — not paraffin wax. Frozen-food boxes and other poly-coated paperboard products, however, should never be composted due to the plastic they contain.

If your waste hauler does not accept poly-coated paperboard, contact local drop-off recyclers to see if they will accept this mixed material.

You could also try to forego frozen meals altogether. Consider making large batches of meals you love and freezing them in reusable containers at the beginning of each week. This would eliminate many of these hard-to-recycle mixed-material boxes from your life, and might even save you some money!

SOURCES: American Disposal Services, Eco-Cycle, Reporter Herald, Waste Free Blog, Waste Management


Do you have tips for pre-batched meal planning that helps you avoid excess packaging? Share them in the comments!

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • tommy b. 2 days ago
  • Monique G. 4 days ago
    Why can't they make 100% paper freezer bags?
  • Toni L. 12 days ago
    can i recycle my mother in law
  • Toni L. 12 days ago
    the trumps do not recycle only money
  • Marc R. 1 month ago
    This article is misleading. Many frozen food boxes are recyclable as regular cardboard because they don't have a thin coating of plastic. If the food inside is in sealed plastic package, like a lot of pizzas, waffles, veggie burgers, the outer box won't have a plastic coating. Many of these boxes even say that the boxes are recyclable as cardboard. Some of the plastic bags inside are recyclable as well at dropoff sites. You need to look on the box to tell. DiGiorno pizza boxes even say on them that they are recyclable but the plastic around the pizza isn't. You need to read the box. It's the ones that have the food directly inside or where the food just has a thin microwavable plastic cover on the tray that will be in poly-coated boxes to prevent freezer burn. Otherwise, freezer boxes are similar to shelf-stable ones.
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