Can You Recycle Shredded Paper?

Learn how to reuse or recycle shredded paper responsibly

Close-up pile of shredded paper

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Shredded paper is still paper, so it can, in fact, be recycled; however, there are a few caveats. First, the process of shredding paper breaks down the strength of its natural fibers, which impacts its value and recyclability. Secondly, once paper products have been cut into shreds they can’t undergo the same sorting process as intact pieces like newspapers and cardboard boxes.

When paper goes to a recycler, it gets sorted, bundled, and stacked. From there, it's chemically treated and slowly broken down into smaller pieces until it becomes a slushy pulp. Regular paper is fairly easy to organize in preparation for these stages, but small, tiny pieces can ball up, creating havoc for equipment and filters. The recycling centers that do collect shredded paper usually have to send it off to dedicated facilities, which can cost time and money.

Paper is one of the most commonly and easily recycled products, but shredded paper presents different challenges. When not discarded properly, your paper may end up directly in a landfill.

How to Recycle Shredded Paper 

While it can be reassuring to know that your personal information is safe from the wrong hands once it’s shredded, environmentally speaking it is better not to shred at all. If possible, try to reuse or destroy the paper in some other way. Perhaps the areas with sensitive data can be marked out or blackened instead. Consider using any blank parts as scratch pads, drawing/craft pages, or for re-printing.

Bales Of Shredded Paper Sit At A Recycling Facility
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When it comes to recycling, a whole piece of paper can easily be included in your curbside collections. Once it's been altered into thousands of strands, paper requires a completely different technique in order to turn it into something else usable. For many cities and towns, this can put more of a burden on already overwhelmed recycling centers. Here's what you can do to make sure that your shredded paper gets recycled.

Check Your Local Curbside Pickup

Depending on your location, some services will allow shredded paper to go out with curbside collections. This isn't common practice, so be sure to double-check with your town's or city’s waste management program first. It's also possible they may require the paper be prepared in a certain way before pick up. For instance, some programs may request it be separated from the rest of your items and contained in a box or bag.

Drop Off

The protocols for recycling shredded paper vary across cities and states, so it’s best to refer to your area’s particular regulations first. There may be certain designated sites for collection or it may be a part of the facility where standard recycling happens. Check to see if there are any fees related to the drop-off service or if there's a limit to the amount of paper that can be brought in.

Take Back Programs

Some places have official “take back days" when the community is invited for a large-scale collection. The event may offer on-site shredding or allow you to bring bags of documents that have already been shredded at home. If you have a place to store your unused piles of paper, it’s worth doing some research to see if your area offers this kind of service.

Ways to Reuse Shredded Paper 

Again, if it can be helped, avoid shredding paper at all, since it may complicate the recycling process. Instead, try to think of alternatives before opting for that route. Even something as simple as turning the paper into scratch pads for grocery lists and to-do notes helps minimize waste.

When given a choice, opt for paper that is free of toxic chemicals and utilizes plant-based inks so that it can be composted and put back into a garden or flower bed. See if there's anyone at your office or in your neighborhood who might have a good reason to take it off your hands. Sometimes art groups or after-school programs take certain donations for use in their teaching centers and classrooms. Otherwise, though a little messy to work with, shredded paper can be a helpful material to reuse around the house.

Composting

Shredded paper is an ideal high carbon component for your composting pile. As long as the paper doesn't have a lot of toxic colored ink or glossy coating (like magazines), it is perfectly compostable. This includes all varieties of paper, from thin newsprint to cardboard — shredded into small pieces so it breaks down more easily.

Just add the shredded paper in your layer of "browns" (with leaves, sawdust, straw) and cover it with "greens" (such as vegetable and fruit scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds).

Pets

Bundles of shredded paper cushion nicely and can make for soft, comfy bedding for small family pets or birds. When used as a liner or insulating layer, it’s easy to clean and pick up after. And since the shredded bills and documents will likely keep coming, you'll always have supply on hand to refresh your pet's quarters.

Moving/Packaging

Like bubble wrap, shredded paper is lightweight and easy to come by, making it ideal for shipping. It works well as a filler for boxes and for keeping fragile items from shifting and moving in transit. Keep it in an area with other materials and supplies for the next time you need to mail a box or wrap belongings.

Plants and Gardens

When it comes to buying paper for personal use in your home or office, go for compostable options when possible. Then, after it's served its purpose, you'll be able to turn it into healthy soil for your garden or farm. In colder months, place the shredded paper around the base of potted plants or trees as protection from frost and freezing temperatures. In the garden, sprinkle the paper as you would mulch and use as landscape bedding to encourage moisture retention and root coverage.