Students at the University of Georgia may notice the option to recycle pizza boxes now at the Niche Pizza Company location in the Tate Student Center food court. However, they still should not toss the remnants of their late night pizza runs into a recycling bin.

“If you call the recycling division now and say ‘hey, can I recycle pizza boxes?’ What they are envisioning is a Papa John’s box, full of grease, some crust, the little peppers and garlic butter thing still in there, and they will say no on the phone,” said Andrew Lentini, program coordinator at the UGA Office of Sustainability said.

According to Art DiFrancesco, associate director for retail operations in UGA Dining Services, UGA wanted to recycle Niche pizza boxes from the beginning, but it was not until this semester when the Office of Sustainability met with representatives from the Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division and showed them that Niche pizza boxes were acceptable that they were able to start doing so.

Lentini said the wax paper in the pizza boxes saves the cardboard from being contaminated by grease. Dining Services is also presorting the boxes to make sure they are uncontaminated.

“[If there is too much contamination in materials sent for recycling], since they know who drops the load, they will have us send the guys back out to pick it up off the floor, put it back in the truck and then send it to the landfill,” Lentini said. “It’s an excessive amount of time and university resources.”

Dining Services is now sorting Niche Pizza Company boxes in order to recycle the ones that have no food contamination.
Kristin M. Bradshaw/Photo Editor
In regards to making sure that items are suitable for recycling, Lentini said that if the material is glass or plastic, students should make sure that there is no liquid or residue left.

“If it’s a paper product, it needs to be clean,” he said. “If it’s a Papa John’s box, that may mean ripping off the top and recycling the top and putting the rest in the landfill.”

Lentini also said recycling incorrectly is worse than not recycling at all because dirty boxes can cause an entire load of waste to be rejected.

Beyond recycling, Dining Services works to minimize waste in both retail locations and the dining commons.

According to DiFrancesco, most of the food left over from retail locations is donated to Full Plate, an organization that provides meals to those in need around Athens.

The only exception is if food has been put on the service line, in which case food codes dictate must be thrown out.

Unlike in the dining halls, where cooked food that cannot be donated goes through a pulping system to be used in landscaping, there is no composting from food waste in the retail locations.

Bryan Varin, executive director of UGA Dining Services, said that pulping systems are too complex to be introduced in retail locations but franchises like Panda Express and Barberitos cook in small batches to minimize the risk of over preparing and then having to throw out food.

At Chick-fil-A, any cooked chicken that has not been moved to the service line is donated to Full Plate while the Niche Pizza serves cooked-to-order food to minimize waste.

“There are some nights when we are closer to closing and we’re wrapping everything up, but there’s a pan that is almost empty,” said Trevor Sawyers, student supervisor at the Niche Pizza. “We have food waste in that regard, but the rest of the time we are very good about letting things get down before we make a new pan.”

Lentini said that the efficiency of Dining Services in producing little waste between donating and composting is commendable.

“I think there is a myth about Dining Services that there is lots and lots of food waste,” Lentini said. “In reality, it’s not there. The amount that they turn over everyday is just a staggering amount compared to the really small amount of waste that they generate. I have been on lots of campuses looking at different dining systems, and [UGA Dining Services] does an excellent job.”

Written by: Olivia Adams