June 14, 2024

Domino’s eyes ways to reduce consumer packaging waste

National brand educates customers on pizza box recycling, and aims to engage them in local advocacy, too!

Domino’s has successfully increased recycled content in its corrugated pizza boxes from 40% to 70%.

Domino’s, one of the country’s largest pizza brands, is working on ways to get more customers to recycle its pizza boxes instead of sending them to landfills.

The company is working to educate consumers on deceasing post-consumer packaging waste, and also encouraging other operators to introduce similar programs at their restaurants. The brand also says it’s looking to reduce misinformation about food and grease residue that often deters consumers from recycling their packaging. Through its dedicated website, Domino’s explains how to recycle the boxes in accordance with local guidelines.

Reaching recycling’s full potential

Domino’s successfully increased recycled content in its corrugated pizza boxes starting in 2019, going from 40% to 70%. The reason, according to Director of Sustainability Francie Abramson, was to make its packaging more sustainable, based on the understanding that corrugated fibers in its boxes could be recycled as many as seven times.

“There were a few objectives when we started,” she says. “Primarily, we wanted to raise awareness about the recyclability of the pizza boxes, but first we needed to address the largely shared misconception that residual grease and cheese would doom them all to landfills.”

Domino’s collaborated with WestRock, its primary box supplier, to test how much grease and residual cheese would impact the recyclability of the fibers, if at all. Abramson says the data found that average amounts of grease didn’t impact the boxes’ recyclability. The research was then reviewed and endorsed by third-party experts, the American Forest & Paper Association and the Recycling Partnership

Availability of pizza box recycling programs

WestRock also commissioned an access study to determine how much of the U.S. population had access to recycling programs. The study, updated in 2022 and scheduled for another one this fall, found that 30% of the population has access to recycling programs that accept corrugated pizza boxes and that 49% accept them, but don’t explicitly state this.

Ideally, Abramson says, all who accept pizza boxes should clearly state they do and eliminate confusion. Those who don’t, can work to convert their existing programs to take them.

“One big challenge is that recycling regulations are driven by local municipalities, so they vary a lot,” she notes. “That’s why we think we can make the biggest impact by reaching out directly to pizza consumers, and why we’ve chosen to educate them on box recyclability, to inspire customers to advocate for change.
Domino’s customer care team is also prepared to engage consumers in advocating for workable solutions in their own communities.

“If our customers know their local recycling services don’t accept pizza boxes, we can provide them with language they can use to try and inspire change,” she says. “For us, success is not just having more customers recycle our boxes. It’s also about getting them to advocate in their local municipalities with our messaging. Our ultimate success will be converting programs who don’t currently accept boxes to explicitly state acceptance in their collections.” 

Jeff Clark, the National Restaurant Association’s Expert Exchange Director, says awareness programs like the one Domino’s is offering is a great way to grow interest in sustainability.

“Educating the public on recycling their used pizza boxes is a big step toward reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills,” says Jeff Clark, the National Restaurant Association’s Expert Exchange Director. “We applaud the efforts that Domino’s and other restaurant companies are making to help protect our environment."

Operator tips for starting your own initiative

Abramson also offered three quick tips for restaurant operators to consider when starting their own package recycling programs. 
  1. Make sure science backs up the facts, and then share the information transparently.
  2. Collaborate with others, from packaging producers to municipalities to haulers.
  3. Keep your customers’ call to action simple and achievable. If more lift is required, like reaching out to municipalities, provide messaging.
“By eliminating confusion around recycling, we can divert waste,” she says. “The more we come together, the more our customers are aware, the less waste will go to landfills.”