Dear Recyclebank: What about shredded paper — can I recycle it with my other items? I would definitely need to use bags for this! –Joanne G.
Dear Joanne: Shredded paper is one of those items for which restrictions vary widely from area to area. While paper itself is clearly worth trying to recycle, once it’s shredded, its fibers may be too short to be processed into new paper, or a facility may simply not have the setup to process it efficiently without flyaways and jammed machinery. For this reason, many municipalities do not accept it.
If your city or town does accept shredded paper, you’re right that the shreds will almost certainly need to be bagged in order to keep all the small pieces from becoming litter or getting sorted with other materials. Some cities, like Philadelphia, prefer shredded paper to be placed within a paper bag, while others request plastic bags (despite their own recyclability issues). The bag may also need to be sealed, as in Fort Worth, TX. The Los Angeles area is particularly complex, with different suburbs having very different requirements. Some cities are able to accept shredded paper only at designated drop-off areas, rather than at curbside pickup. Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, mandates that residents bring shredded paper to designated public containers. Meanwhile, some cities do not publicly specify their requirements for shredded paper. As always, when in doubt, you’ll want to check directly with your handler.
You still have options if your area doesn’t accept shredded paper for recycling. If you compost at home, it’s a simple addition to the pile. If you prefer to reuse the paper, it makes great packing material when you ship packages and gifts. You may also want to consider donating it to an animal rescue to serve as bedding material, or see if anyone you know has a small pet that could use it.
The best solution to the shredded paper dilemma may be to avoid shredding all together. Eco-Cycle in Boulder, CO, recommends that rather than shredding sensitive documents, you simply mark out any private information with a black permanent marker until it can’t be seen, since ink is removed during the recycling process anyway. Once the sensitive subjects are covered up, you can then recycle the paper whole.
City of Detroit, City of Philadelphia Streets Department, Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, Los Angeles Times - L.A. at Home, RecycleNation
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How Do I Recycle Shredded Paper?
While shredded paper is technically recyclable, it can be a burden on your local facility. Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the process.
How does your city or town deal with shredded paper in the recycling stream? We’d love to hear more in the comments!