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Solving the Shredded Paper Problem

Solving the Shredded Paper Problem

It can be challenging to keep all our documents organized. Regularly decluttering your document storage can be a very freeing way to release old “baggage”. If it is time for you to free up some space (physically and mentally), one of the places you may be wanting to lighten your load is your old bank statements and tax documents.


Messy file cabinet

How long do we need to hold onto them? Forbes has a very useful article for helping you to decide what stays and what can go.

It’s a no-brainer that when we are finished with our regular household paper, we drop it in the recycle bin and give it a chance to be useful once more. What happens when we no longer need to hold on to our important documents?

Okay, so you have tackled your old document removal project. Now you have a pile of documents that you no longer need to hold onto. You aren’t going to want your personal information available to identity thieves. There are a few ways to securely destroy the documents that you can choose from. One of the most popular methods is to shred them.


Large brick of shredded paper


Here is where the problem comes in. Shredded paper is NOT generally accepted in curbside recycling. Even when it is kept contained in a box or paper bag, a lot of waste collection companies suggest that it needs to go to the landfill instead.

How do we keep our outdated sensitive documents secure AND recycle the paper at the same time?


How does paper recycling work?





What makes shredded paper unrecyclable?

Image of the inside of a paper recycling plant.


Shredded paper creates several difficulties in the recycling process.

When the small pieces of paper are uncontained, it is much harder to separate them from other materials which can lead to contamination issues.

The mechanisms that assist in the sorting process are designed to identify size A5 (5⅞ x 8¼”/14.8 x 21cm) and larger, so smaller pieces fall through. These paper shreds that fall off the conveyor frequently get stuck underneath the mechanism causing operations to be halted while machines are cleaned out.

During the shredding process, tiny dust-sized particles are produced. These small particles are easily ignitable, which leads to an increased fire hazard.

Paper products riding up a conveyor into a paper recycling plant.


Home shredding or professional shredding service?

There are several professional document shredding companies that provide convenient and secure shredding services. Many even have the paper recycled once the data destruction has taken place. This service also comes with a fee.

It can make sense to do this for some people. The amount of time it can take to feed the mountain of pages through your home shredder certainly could be put to better use.

For others, having a shredder at home with a “shred as you go” system would make more sense. Home shredders aren’t very expensive, and it is a one-time purchase that can last many years when properly maintained.

Home shredding comes with recycling difficulties. So, what can you do to help close the loop if home shredding is the better option for you?

A large green bin is filled above the rim with shredded paper.


Drop-Off Recycling

For a lot of areas where shredded paper is not accepted in curbside recycling, there may be other options available for drop-off recycling services. For example, International Paper has 18 Recycling Center Locations across the US and Mexico that accept drop-off recycling services. If you would like to see if any of their locations are near you, you can find out here.

Reducing the demand for shredding paper

There are other options for keeping your information safe that don’t require shredding and the inherent issues that it presents. For instance, if there are only a few words on the page or a small section, you may opt for blacking it out with a marker and placing it in the recycle bin instead.


Paper ripped and rolled back to expose the word "CONFIDENTIAL."


If it is a small section of the page that contains sensitive data, you could just tear off that small section and drop the rest of the page in the recycle bin.

If you enjoy camping or have a backyard fire pit, you could use the sheet of paper as a fire starter. Be sure to always know whether it is safe (and legal) to start a fire though. Some cities have laws or regulations regarding yard fires, so do a quick check with your local government’s website before you go with this option.

Campers sit around a campfire at night. 

My personal favorite is going completely paperless whenever possible. So many places have ways to skip the paper copy. Banks, utility companies, and even grocery stores can give you the option to access your data securely online while eliminating the need for a paper copy.


Ways to use shredded paper at home

For those of you that want to start or continue shredding your sensitive documents at home, some ways shredded paper can be useful.

Crafting with shredded paper

Paper recycling can be done at home through crafting! Depending on what craft you are planning, you could even skip the shredding step altogether. The original information on the paper will be impossible to puzzle out even for the most determined identity thief.

Strings of colorful paper beads
  • Paper Beads
  • Papier Mache
  • Celebration Decorations 
  • Handmade Paper
  • Cards – Gift Tags
  • Seed/Flower Paper
  • Basket Weaving 

Colorful flowers made from rolled paperWoven paper from a basketHandmade paperA gift box wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine and labeled with a handmade paper label.

    Utilizing shredded paper on a homestead or in the garden


    There are many practical uses for shredded paper outdoors too. If you have a garden or homestead, shredded paper can be a free resource that you didn’t even realize you had.

    Brown eggs nestled in shredded paper


    If you have a hamster cage, chicken coop, or any other animal that nestles down at night in straw, you can add shredded paper to their nesting box and save yourself some money too.

    Shredded paper is also compostable and can be added to your curbside or backyard compost bin as a brown material. This will help the green materials to break down easier. Remember, if your paper shreds are destined for the compost or in the garden, be careful to separate any glossy papers before shredding. Also, you will want to avoid shredding envelopes with plastic windows as they will not be ideal for garden nutrient levels.

    Once you’ve prepared the spot for your vegetables to be planted in your garden, you can throw some paper in the hole and soak it. Then, add your layer of compost and your plant.

    You can save money on mulch too by covering the ground around your plants or trees with shredded paper. This will help keep weeds in check and provide an insulating layer to help retain soil moisture.

     Biodegradable planting cups made from paper.

    You can also make your biodegradable seed starting cups from paper. When your seedlings are ready to be transplanted, you can plant the entire paper seed cup in the ground and let it break down in the soil.


    There is not one size fits all solution to this issue of recycling shredded paper. While there is still room for improvement in the overall recycling industry, sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity and an open mind to find the right solution for you.

    We would love to hear from you if you have more ideas for ways to reuse shredded paper, or if you know another way to get home-shredded paper recycled. Comment below to join the conversation.

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