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Solving the Shredded Paper Problem
Keeping all our documents organized can be challenging. 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 want to lighten your load is your old bank statements and tax documents.
How long do we need to hold onto them? Forbes has a handy article for helping you decide what stays and what can go.
It’s a no-brainer for most people that when we are done 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 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 choose from to destroy the documents securely. One of the most popular methods is to shred them.
Here is where the problem comes in. Shredded paper is NOT generally accepted in curbside recycling. Even when it is kept in a box or paper bag, many waste collection companies suggest it go to the landfill instead.
How do we keep our outdated sensitive documents secure AND recycle the paper simultaneously?
How Does Paper Recycling Work?
This video by Domtar explains the recycling process for paper.
What Makes Shredded Paper Unrecyclable?
Shredded paper creates several difficulties in the recycling process. When the small pieces of paper are uncontained, separating them from other materials is much more challenging, 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.
Home Shredding or Professional Shredding Service?
Several professional document shredding companies provide convenient and secure shredding services. Many even have the paper recycled once the data destruction has taken place. Depending on the company you choose, recycling the shredded paper may be considered an additional service that comes with a fee.
It can make sense to do this for some people. The amount of time it takes to feed the mountain of pages through your home shredder 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. What can you do to help close the loop if home shredding is better for you?
For many areas where shredded paper is not accepted in curbside recycling, other options may be 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 want 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 be able to block them out with a marker and place the page in the recycle bin instead.
Furthermore, if only a small section of the page contains sensitive data, you could 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 crumple the paper into a ball and use it as a fire starter. Be sure to find out whether starting a fire in your area is safe (and legal). Some cities have laws or regulations regarding yard fires, so check with your local government’s website before using this option.
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.
Crafting with Paper at Home
For those of you who want to start or continue shredding your sensitive documents at home, there are some ways shredded paper can be useful.
Paper recycling can be done at home through crafting! Depending on what craft you are planning, you may be able to skip the shredding step altogether. The original information on the paper will be impossible to puzzle out even for the most determined identity thief.
Paper Beads Papier Mache Celebration Decorations Handmade Paper Cards – Gift Tags Seed/Flower Paper
Utilizing Shredded Paper In Your Garden or Homestead
There are many practical uses for shredded paper outdoors, too. If you have a garden or homestead, shredded paper can be a free resource you didn’t even realize you had.
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.
Shredded paper is also compostable and can be added to your curbside or backyard compost bin as a brown material. Using mixed papers in your compost is a great way to increase the carbon content in your compost bin, which will help the green materials to break down more easily. Remember, remove any glossy papers before shredding if your paper shreds are destined for the compost or in the garden. 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.
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 no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue of recycling shredded paper. While there is room for improvement in the overall recycling industry, sometimes, it just takes 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 recycle home-shredded paper. Comment below to join the conversation.
Abi Townsend grew up in a large family in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah. Through her articles on I Heart Green and Crafty Green, she brings her love of nature and conservation together with her passion for arts & crafts.
Find out more about how she started Green Distributors at our About Us Page. To learn more about our company's Sustainability Goals and how we are doing in our commitment check out our Sustainability Page.
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