frozen food boxes in freezer

How Can I Recycle Frozen Food Boxes?

The best thing you can do when faced with recycling frozen food boxes is educate yourself about recycling restrictions in your area.

Tossing a frozen food box in your recycling bin if it’s not recyclable can cause trouble at a recycling center. But throwing the boxes into your trash because you’re uncertain about what to do with them is equally problematic. You don’t want to miss a chance to help the Earth by recycling when you can.

The first step when determining what you should do with frozen food boxes is to check your curbside recycling service’s list of accepted materials. Cities may use different terms to describe these items. In addition to “frozen food boxes,” they may also be called, “wet-strength paperboard.” Another option is to consult Earth911’s recycling guides, which cover both plastic-coated boxes and wax-coated boxes.

“Our directory currently has more than 10 times the listings for paperboard as it does for wet-strength paperboard in the U.S.,” said Trey Granger, former director of recycling program services & senior waste stream analyst at Earth911.

Granger explained that Earth911 Recycling Search lists frozen food boxes as recyclable only if a city explicitly mentions them by name.  If your local curbside recycling program does not accept these items, you may have access to a drop-off recycling location, so be sure to make note of these options during your search: Add your zip code to find recycling options in your area. Follow up with your local recycler or waste disposal program to ensure you have all the information you need.

Precycle When You Shop

If you live in a locale that does not offer curbside or drop-off recycling, you still have options.

First, consider precycling – making sure to buy frozen food in packaging that is more easily recyclable, as well as planning to buy conservatively to reduce waste.

Begin by looking for frozen food items in recyclable packaging. Not all frozen food companies use polyethylene in their boxes, so check the packaging used by brands you like. For example, Amy’s Kitchen does not use polyethylene in their frozen food boxes.

According to Eco-Cycle, a large nonprofit recycler in Boulder, Colorado, it can be difficult to tell just by looking at a box if it’s coated with polyethylene, so confirm with manufacturers before assuming frozen food packaging is safe to recycle.

If you already have frozen food boxes and no way to recycle them, consider reusing them in craft projects like making scrapbooks, postcards, or office organizers. You can also save them up and donate them to schools or community groups that might like to use them for craft projects.

As interest in sustainable food packaging grows, we may see more curbside recycling programs accepting frozen food boxes, so keep yourself informed about recycling information in your area.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the city of San Diego sorts all frozen food boxes from their recycling stream. It has been corrected to reflect that this is not the case.

Originally published on May 28, 2013, this article was updated in November 2018.