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!