Rethink Your Things: the eternal life of the pizza table

A first in the TRU Omega’s new sustainability column Rethink Your Things by Justin Moore

I’m too young to remember some of the most iconic inventions of the 1980s, the Sony Walkman, Nintendo’s Entertainment System or Hammer Pants, too many of them replaced, upgraded or frankly obsolete by the time I grew up at the turn of the century.

But one thing has managed to stick around, recently celebrating its 36th birthday, remaining relatively unchanged since its inception in 1983, is Carmela Vitale’s “Package Saver” or as it’s commonly known as the “pizza table.”

We’ve all opened up a box of warm cheesy pizza delivered to our homes to find the small white piece of furniture resting at the centre of our pizza only to laugh and question its purpose. For those still unaware, the three-pronged table prevents the cardboard box from sagging due to steam or structural compromise.

Despite the Long Beach patent, which only just expired in 2003, pizza companies, as well as other product delivery services, have used variations of the single-use plastic product and continue to do so today. This, however, was only a short journey for the iconic pizza table.

According to the original patent (US4498586) the “Package Saver” is “a temperature resistant moulded plastic device,” able to withstand temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The plastic used to create these tiny objects doesn’t act the same way that regular plastics would.

Thermoplastics are found in toys and materials like Lego bricks, plastic containers and guitar picks. At the end of its life, these materials can be melted down and remoulded into something entirely new. Thermoset plastics, used to create pizza tables, do not act the same way. Once a thermoset plastic item is formed and moulded, it’s nearly impossible to melt back down to repeat the process due to a “curing” stage which changes the state of the material at a molecular level.

If you’re familiar with the topic of plastic over-consumption, you may also know that plastics will not naturally break down as many materials do. It takes UV Rays an extended period (we’re talking hundreds to thousands of years) to eat away at the molecular bonds of plastic. For items buried in landfills, this process is indefinite. Meanwhile, the plastic in our ocean turns to microplastic causing extended environmental issues well beyond this column.

That’s not to say that people haven’t found alternative uses for these pizza tables (pizza ottomans, pizza nipples? You choose.) As @josemehrinho writes on Twitter: “My parents used to clean them after we were done with the pizza and stick them into unused plug sockets to stop us electrocuting ourselves.”

I can think back to my childhood of my sister using the tables for Polly Pocket parties amongst other imaginative uses.

Over time many pizza companies have stopped using the single-use items entirely, opting instead for a baked dough ball that rests in the centre of the pizza, an added treat that makes a redundancy of the plastic nuisance.

However, many pizza chains still deliver the plastic tables. We get them quite often at Omega pitch meetings, which in turn sparked the idea for this column.

Although, it can be hoped that things are changing in the industry. When I called Panago to order a pizza this week and requested a delivery without the plastic table, the operator was shocked at my request, saying “I didn’t think we still did that” and placed me on hold for two minutes to clarify, the longest I’ve ever been on hold to order a pizza!

When I received my large Panago Classic with cheesy breadsticks (a favourite of mine), it came with a note attached strictly asking for no pizza table with delivery, which is a win-win! I get cheesy, greasy pizza and one less single-use product is being wasted and disposed of.