Paper is one of the most recyclable materials out there, which makes it one of the best renewable products that we create as a species. That’s no mean feat, considering how replete our environment is with piles of our other non-recyclable rubbish.
That said, recycling paper does have some caveats attached to it, and not all types of paper products can be recycled by your average recycling center. Shredded paper, for example, is a paper product that presents some challenges. But if you can’t put it with curbside recycling, where can you take shredded paper to be recycled?
How is paper recycled?
According to Recycling Guide, the paper recycling process is fairly simple. Paper meant for recycling is taken from your home bin and dumped into larger bins at the recycling center, which are then separated by types and grades. The separated paper is washed in soapy water to remove any inks, plastic film, glue, and staples.
The product is then worked down into a paper slurry pulp, which is then laid out on huge screens to dry. Once it’s ready, the new paper is then repurposed into any number of other paper materials like cardboard, toilet paper, newspaper, or office paper.
Can shredded paper be recycled?
The short answer is yes, shredded paper can be recycled, just like normal paper. However, the shredded paper presents a number of challenges to recycling centers. You might think, “Hey, the paper has already been broken down, shouldn’t it be easier to recycle?” But that’s not really how it works.
Earlier, we explained that the washed paper pulp is spread out onto gigantic screens to dry in the recycling plant or paper mill. Unlike the recycled paper you made in your grade school days, paper mills need long strands of paper that will catch and stick to their screens. Small pieces, i.e. shreds, are likely to just pass through and create a clumpy mess.
Will recycling plants actually recycle shredded paper?
Recycling centers and sanitation workers will take shredded paper, but they certainly don’t enjoy doing so. To make things easier for the recycling center staff, tie up your shredded paper in a clear bag or paper bag before adding it to your recycling bin. If it’s loose in a box or mixed in with other things, it is going to just be a huge mess for anyone hauling it to the recycling center.
The other problem is that in order to process it properly, recycling center workers need to engage in the painstaking separation of the fibers by hand. Because of the extra work involved, shredded paper is often seen as less valuable than other types of recyclable paper. As a result, many recycling companies are loath to accept shredded paper for recycling.
For anyone looking to recycle shredded paper, we highly recommend checking your municipality's website for specific guidelines on how best to do so.
What if I need to shred my old documents?
While it’s not necessary to shred all paper, many choose to shred their paper because it contains sensitive information. Confidential documents or those containing personal or financial information should be shredded or at least partially destroyed before disposing of them. Thankfully, Eco-Cycle has a solution to this conundrum.
Eco-Cycle recommends ripping off the part of the paper that contains any sensitive information first and then putting the rest of the page in the recycling bin intact. Then you can just put all the info bits in an envelope and shred the whole thing afterward. It’s far less waste and far less trouble for the recycling team.
Where do I take shredded paper to be recycled?
This type of partial shredding works for home, of course, but commercial companies might end up with dumpsters full of shredded paper. Shredding companies even exist to work with businesses, local governments, and recycling organizations. Companies like Iron Mountain offer recycling for even the most severely shredded paper products.
As always, moderation is key to any eco-friendly lifestyle. The less paper you use, the better off you should be. Try to minimize your environmental impact by getting all your bills digitally rather than through the mail and by recycling paper whenever you can.
Is shredded paper compostable?
Depending on what kind of paper you're recycling, shredded paper can do wonders for your compost. According to Sierra Club, you can compost shredded newspaper, computer paper, or even loose leaf — just avoid including colored or glossy paper, which can contain toxins. Studies have shown paper contains less toxins than actual grass, so it's definitely a solid addition to your pile.
This article, originally published on Dec. 2, 2020, has been updated to include information about composting.