Paper is very recyclable in general, but Shredded Paper can have some issues for recyclers. So to answer the question, “Can I recycle shredded paper?” The answer is yes, sometimes, but probably not curbside if all your recyclables go into one mixed bin. Let’s discuss how and where you CAN recycle shredded paper.
The Problems with Shredded Paper Recycling
When it comes to recycling shredded paper, it has a couple issues that make it a bit more challenging for recycling.
- It’s tough to separate. Since the paper is in the form of thin strips, if it’s mixed in with other recyclables like glass, plastic and metal, it will tend to get tangled with other non-paper materials or fall through the various screeners/sorters. It will then end up mixed in with and contaminating materials like glass and falling into various nooks and crannies of the machinery where it doesn’t belong. (If you’d like to understand this process better, visit Recycling at a Materials Recovery Facility – How Does It Work?)
- It’s less valuable. Every time paper is recycled or cut, the paper fibers get shorter, making them weaker. When paper is shredded, the fibers are shortened, making shredded paper less valuable for recyclers.
What to Do with Shredded Paper
Check with your recycling program to see if shredded paper is allowed. Most likely it won’t be, unless your program has you separate your paper from other recyclables. In that case, you MIGHT be allowed to put shredded paper in with your other paper recycling, but often you will still be asked to put the shredded paper in its own bag.
If that’s not an option, many communities have paper collection bins around town. Schools in particular will often place these large dumpster-style collection bins in their parking lots and use the proceeds as a fundraiser for the school. But again, check with the collection company to see what their policy is on shredded paper. They may also ask you to pack it in a clear plastic bag so that it will be kept separate and they can see that it is not trash. To find one of these bins, you can search on Earth911’s Recycling Locator. (Scroll all the way to the bottom.)
Other Options for Shredded Paper
Does it really need to be shredded? There are certainly cases where you need to shred documents for privacy and financial considerations. But if there is just one sensitive piece of information on an envelope or document, consider simply using a permanent marker to block out the private information. Then you can recycle the paper more easily.
Use it for packing. Shredded paper makes a great packing material. Save it for the next time you need to box and ship something. Or if you have a lot, offer it to a business that ships a lot of packages.
Compost it. If it is clean office paper (not glossy magazine or catalog type paper), then you can compost it! Plain paper can be a good “brown” material for your compost pile as long as it you are mixing it with plenty of other materials. You just don’t want most of your compost to be office paper.
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