Recycling's Dirty Dozen — No. 6: Do NOT Put Frozen Food Boxes in The Bin

Recycling’s Dirty Dozen — No. 6: Do NOT Put Frozen Food Boxes in The Bin

  • Editor’s Note: This article is written by Julia Linares, AmeriCorps member with the Chicago-area Greenest Region Corps and a fellow for Cook County’s Department of Environment and Sustainability, along with Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, both of whom are members of the Illinois Task Force for Recycling Contamination Solutions. The article is part of a year-long a series on the “Dirty Dozen” of recycling — the 12 items that should NOT go in your recycling cart. Got local questions or concerns? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

If it’s made from paperboard, it must be recyclable, right? Not always!

Frozen food boxes pose a challenge to the recycling process. Paperboard boxes that were designed for freezer foods, such as frozen pizza and entrées, are impregnated with a plastic polymer to protect against freezer burn. The plastic prevents the box from breaking up in the recycling process.

These materials are not recyclable nor compostable. Please put them in the trash.

Though some brands do make their frozen food boxes out of regular paper, the recycling sorting facilities, with their large volumes of material, cannot quickly identify the difference so they are all pulled off the line and landfilled.

See this video for an inside look at a recycling sorting facility!

And if your meal came with a plastic tray, remember to throw it away. Plastic trays cannot be recycled — even if they feature the chasing arrows.

As frozen food manufacturers continue to innovate their packaging by using less plastic, remember that the marketing of these products does not determine their recyclability.

“Earth-friendly packaging” does not always mean it can be recycled curbside. As always, check with your local recycling facility if faced with uncertainty and utilize our recycling guidelines. Here’s a link o Kane County’s Recycling Guidelines flyer.

Basic recycling is better recycling! We want to keep out the stuff that causes problems, and frozen food containers are one of them.

Love the ease of frozen meals, but hate the waste they generate? Save money and packaging by preparing your own frozen meals made easy with endless amounts of recipes for DIY TV dinners online.

To begin your recipe search, check out:

Chicken spaghetti casserole is a popular freezer meal.

Read The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Series!