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Recycling Shredded Paper

By Shopify API March 26, 2019

We get a lot of questions about how to recycle shredded paper. In response, we’ve been able to suggest alternatives to simply trashing it; hamster bedding, easter basket fluff, worm food, eco-friendly tinsel, kindling, compost; but today we want to address how to properly recycle shredded paper via the recycling bin. Do many people recycle shredded paper? What container, if any, should I use to dispose of shredded paper? What happens to my shredded paper after the recycling has been picked up? These are some of the questions we’ll answer in the following post.

What are my options for recycling shredded paper?

There are three correct ways to recycle shredded paper.
  • In a clear plastic bag
  • In a paper bag, folded over and stapled
  • Layered between cardboard in your recycling bin

Do many people recycle shredded paper?

A recent podcast entitled “We Probably Won’t Recycle Shredded Paper” by Scientific American examined a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. In the study, individuals were instructed to evaluate scissors by cutting strips of paper. On their way out of the rooms the participants were asked to dispose of the cut paper in one of two bins. One was labelled trash, the other recycling. The participants were more likely to throw their shredded paper in the trash. Naturally, this came to us as a shock-- not only because we are avid recyclers as an office, but because our machines are producing waste that goes straight to the landfill.

The study offers an explanation:

"If something looks like trash you are more likely to trash it. Even if it has value—such as recyclable items like aluminum cans or torn paper."

Like any socially minded company, we asked ourselves, how we can limit the footprint our consumers may create using the products we sell? The answer: by explaining how best to recycle shredded paper.

What container should I use? 

When recycling shred, it is best to contain the particles is a paper bag, but your neighborhood recycling collectors will also appreciate a clear plastic bag like the kind we sell here.

 Alternatively, shred can be sandwiched between cardboard in a larger recycling bin. (Graphic from the Montgomery County’s recycling website.) While this is a good idea, we see some potential snags with the layering method. Most recycling bins are a conglomeration or bottles, old Tupperware containers, shredded and non-shredded paper, so creating neat layers like those depicted might prove difficult. Also, what happens on a windy day when the bin must be empty into the recycling vehicle: imitation snow flurries. Using a clear plastic shredder bag provides the neatest solution. However, paper bags may be the best option for certain people. If you are already in the habit of having your groceries bagged in paper, simply contain the shred in the used grocery store bags with a simple fold and a staple.

What happens to my shredded paper after the recycling has been picked up?

Curious as to nature of mixing plastic and paper with the plastic bag option, we contacted our local recycling authority, the Montgomery County Council and asked some questions. It turns out, when the bags of shred arrive to the recycling facility, the paper and plastic are separated. A very polite and knowledgeable representative explained:

“The plastic bags are split open and the shredded paper goes in with the other paper”.

Mystery solved.

How can I increase the security of my disposables?

Those of you who may be wary about security, there are several things you can do to decrease the chance of your shredded documents falling into the wrong hands.

  1. Take out your recycling out the morning of recycling day as opposed to evening before.

  2. Say hello to your recycling collection team when they come around. This way you’ll be able to see if the truck represents your county, and identify any other visual features that your trash is being collected by the right people.

  3. Keep up to date on any changes in your trash pickup schedule so that your disposables are not left exposed longer than they need to be.

  4. Forego pickup recycling all together and attend a “Shred Day”. Check your county’s website for a shred day near you!

Why don’t all recycling centers accept shredded paper even when they accept regular paper?

Shredding documents comes with a little-considered trade-off: security vs. longevity. Certain documents must be shredded to very small sizes because of the sensitivity of the information contained on them. With this line of thought, smaller is better. However, if you consider earthly impact, the larger particle is much more valuable. Long fibers are most useful in creating good-quality recycled paper. Shredding to a small size severely shortens these fibers. Strip cut shredders get a lot of flack for their thick shred size compared to crosscut shredders when the topic of conversation is security. But when you consider shred size from the perspective of identity thieves and environmentalists, thick cut is way more valuable.

Some facts from Baltimore County on paper recycling

If knowledge isn’t enough to make you recycle your shred, consider these statistics from Baltimore County’s recycling website.

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paper accounts for more than 40 percent of a typical landfill's contents, more than any other material.  Paper, similar to other materials, does not easily biodegrade once in a landfill.

  • In 2007, newspapers were recycled at a rate of nearly 78 percent. Approximately 72 percent of high-grade office papers and 40 percent of magazines were recycled. Forty percent of unwanted mail, 26 percent of books, and 20 percent of telephone directories were recovered for recycling as well.

  • The amount of paper being recovered far exceeds the amount sent to landfill sites. Every ton of paper that is recovered saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.

  • To make one ton of paper using recycled fiber saves 17 trees, 360 gallons of water, 100 gallons of gasoline, and keeps 60 pounds of pollutants out of the air.

A Cool Resource

Earth911 offers a database that can locate the closest facility that recycles shredded paper.

We hope that knowing your options for recycling shred has made you more likely to recycle your shredded paper. Some people may now be considering whether it is worth it to shred only mildly sensitive documents to smithereens. One thing is clear: together as offices and individuals we can limit the amount of paper that goes to landfills. Shred is valuable--to environmentally conscious individuals and identity thieves alike--lets reuse it in whatever way we can.

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