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The Potential Green Future of Pizza Delivery, in UFO Form

I love pizza. I'd have it every day for lunch if I could. The only thing holding me back is overwhelming 'za guilt: the only way pizzerias seem to package a couple slices to go is to plop them in a regular old pizza box. Not only do I feel like an...

I love pizza. I’d have it every day for lunch if I could. The only thing holding me back is overwhelming ‘za guilt: the only way pizzerias seem to package a couple slices to go is to plop them in a regular old pizza box. Not only do I feel like an idiot for carrying a giant cardboard box around, I’m always stuck being the clown who crammed the garbage with a whole lot of stinky, greasy waste.

Food packaging start-up Good News Reuse claims to have the answer: a reusable pizza disc cutely called the Pi Pan. The stainless-steel pizza UFOs are designed to be lightweight, non-stick and better insulated than regular boxes.

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Sounds great, right? Delivered pies will be hotter, less crushed and less wasteful than ever. Plus, Good News Reuse says the Pi Pans are good for at least 1,000 uses. Think of the mountain of cardboard (and guilt) saved. Plus, it’s a toy for the kids!

As with all seemingly good ideas for products, there’s one simple question: will people buy it? That’s where the idea of reusable pizza boxes hits a pretty big bump in the road. Cardboard is cheap. A basic search for pizza boxes comes up with this result: a 16" square printed box made of 100% recycled cardboard. At $12.99 for a single case of 50 (prices get cheaper in larger quantities), the boxes are $0.26 each. Pretty damn cheap.

On the other hand, Good News Reuse is shooting to sell its 16" equivalent at $15 to $20 in bulk. Compared to the other offering, pizza shops using Pi Pans wouldn’t make their money back until they reused a Pi Pan sixty times, not including the extra labor and dishwashing requirements.

Now, there’s no question the Pi Pan would hold up that long, but how can a business afford to sling out $20 worth of merchandise with every order? It only works with a customer deposit, and who wants to drop an extra $10 on their delivered pizza that’s contingent on them returning to the shop in the first place?

Of course, there are business sectors that the Pi Pan (and equivalents) could be very valuable. The hotel and hospitality industry comes to mind because room service customers wouldn’t have to return the pan and it’s easy to charge for thefts. It’s also a valuable design exercise. Packaging is inherently wasteful, and even recycled items require vastly more energy to produce than reusable items. But Good News Reuse’s offering serves to make another valuable point: no matter how good (or green) an idea is, if it isn’t making dollars, it isn’t making sense.