Recycling Q&A: Can I Recycle Boxes For Frozen Foods? (Sadly, No!)

Recycling Q&A: Can I Recycle Boxes For Frozen Foods? (Sadly, No!)

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of recycling tips from Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

Who knew? Apparently, not a lot of folks.

Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland shares the following Q&A exchange, which reveals that you can’t recycle cardboard boxes from frozen food meals and pizzas.

Frozen Food Box Question


I recently heard that you cannot recycle cardboard boxes from frozen food meals and pizzas because even though they seem like any other cardboard, they are sprayed with a plastic coating to prevent freezer burn and that makes them impossible to recycle.

This is the first I’ve heard of this and I have been throwing my frozen food boxes in my bin all this time, so I was hoping you could clarify whether this is true or not.

Thank you!

— Angela

Frozen Food Box Answer

Hi Angela,

Unfortunately, it is true! There are a variety of frozen food boxes, many of which have wet strength or plastic fiber not wanted by paper mills. Therefore, please do not put frozen food boxes in the recycling. These sorts of hybrid materials have to go in the trash.

I know you want to recycle as much as possible, but keeping these problem materials out of the recycling helps keep the system sustainable and resilient.

Thank you for inquiring!

— Jennifer

Follow-Up Frozen Food Box Question

Hi, Jennifer!

Thank you for the reply!

It is frustrating to me that this rule doesn’t seem to be broadcast to people … I just looked again at the brochure we get in the mail about recycling, and it doesn’t list frozen food boxes. I just wish I had known!

Also confusing is the fact that some boxes say they should be recycled … I was eating a Lean Cuisine the other day, and the box had a recycle symbol and said please recycle — so perhaps even the food manufacturers are out of the loop!!

Thanks again for all you do!

— Angela

Follow-Up Frozen Food Box Answer

Hi, Angela!

Yes, it is frustrating for recycling educators, as well. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like there are a million-and-one different items on the “do not recycle” list!

Although there’s no way to list them all, frozen food boxes should definitely be on the “naughty list.”

There are certain companies that do not coat their paper boxes, making them theoretically recyclable, but unfortunately, the sorters at the material recovery facilities cannot tell the difference, and they will get pulled off the line and discarded as trash anyway. So there is no point putting them into the recycling bin.

Example of some of the newer labels. (CREDIT How2Recycle)

Thanks to your email, I have just edited the Kane County Recycles Guidelines Page and will also add it to my new printed Green Guide for 2018, which will be distributed in early January.

Sadly, a lot of companies want to appear green or are uninformed and so print misinformation on their packaging. There is a group working with manufacturers of products and packaging that have created a labeling system that you might look out for on some products called How2Recycle.

The label specifies each piece of the packaging and whether it can or cannot be recycled or whether to check with your local program.

Thank you for your care for the environment and attention to recycling!

— Jennifer