GreenBox with the top split into four plates. (Photo courtesy of GreenBox)
When you’re trying to satiate a large group, pizza’s an obvious choice. It’s simple and quick, feeds many mouths for relatively low costs, and satisfies even the pickiest eater’s taste buds. Problem is, its packaging generates a bunch of waste that can’t be recycled because of its former content’s cheesy-gooey-greasy runoff. A company in New York came up with a pretty cool solution: A perforated box. The top separates into four plates and the bottom folds up to become a handy fridge-sized home for leftovers. It doesn’t change the recycling factor, but it does reduce some pizza-eating waste.
GreenBox has been around for seven years, but according to founder Will Walsh, now it’s getting attention in a major way. Starting in August, the box will make its way into 30 Whole Foods stores to package their brick-oven pizzas, and around the same time, two chains—one in Arizona, the other in British Columbia—will begin using GreenBox exclusively. The company also has a licensing agreement with a Central American supplier that delivers some 750 million pizza boxes a year.
These packages made from 100% recycled material don’t
have a much higher price tag than regular old cardboard containers. Even better, they cost less to the environment. “If you use [the box] to its full utility, you don’t need plates. You don’t have to waste five to six gallons of water washing regular plates,” Walsh says. You also get to skip the paper goods, whose wax coating often prevents recycling even when they’re clean, and the plastic wrap or aluminum foil for stashing leftovers.
Curious how GreenBox got its start? The story’s pretty amusing: “It came in two stages,” Walsh recalls.
The first dates back to his college days. “I lived with 40 guys and we didn’t have any plates. That’s the honest-to-god truth. We were watching a football game on Sunday and we had pizza,” he says. As grease dripped down the arm of one of his buddies, Walsh noticed the tossed-aside, left-for-
Box bottom as container to store leftovers (Photo courtesy of GreenBox)
garbage box. “I reached over, tore [the top] into four pieces, and gave a piece to everyone in the room.”
Walsh’s pals insisted he could make some dough with this idea, but he waved them off—until a decade later, when he once again performed his superhero-like pizza-feat for a gaggle of 8-year-olds at a birthday party. “They ran out of paper plates,” he says. “My friend was gonna send his wife to the store. And I said, ‘No, watch this,’ and I tore the top of the box. The little girls just loved it.” This time, Walsh took the raving seriously. (So seriously, in fact, that he bought 50 boxes from a pizzeria, locked himself in his room for a weekend with an X-ACTO knife, and tested configurations until one worked perfectly.)
Now, his product prevents pizza boxes from being single-use, hard-to-handle waste. “I don’t know how many people would eat off cardboard plates…I would. I don’t know if my parents would,” Walsh says. But “the whole premise is multi-purpose, environmentally friendly products.” For an industry that generated $36 billion in 2009 alone, that really means something.