how to recycle shredded paper

Paper makes up 25% of landfill waste and 33% of all municipal waste, a significant proportion of this being shredded paper. Many organizations as well as individuals shredding their sensitive documents, it’s important to know how to recycle shredded paper.

Can you recycle shredded paper?

Yes, you can recycle shredded paper. In fact, it can be recycled or repurposed multiple times before its fibers begin to lose their integrity.

However, it’s not as simple as just tossing it in the recycling bin. Small, lightweight pieces of shredded paper could easily be blown out of the bin, and end up polluting land or water systems.

Paper in this form also presents a problem for recycling centers, as it can get stuck in their machinery. Many facilities will accept this material, but only if they can handle it separately.

paper for recycling
Paper ready for recycling
Source: Flickr / Sustainable Initiatives Fund Trust

To help understand how to recycle shredded paper, let’s look at how paper is recycled en masse:

  1. Recycling centers sort the paper and categorize it based on type, and sometimes quality.
  1. They then further shred the paper into small pieces, before adding chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium silicate, sodium hydroxide, and water to create a mixture.
  1. The facility works the mixture to break down the paper into its fibers, resulting in a mushy concoction known as pulp. This is the raw material used to make recycled paper.
  1. The recycler then puts the pulp in a floatation tank, adding more chemicals and air bubbles to extract all the ink out and create a pure, white pulp. At this stage, they may add dye to make colored paper.
  1. To dry the paper, the facility puts it through massive rollers to squeeze out excess water. They then send it through heated rollers for further drying before creating large rolls of paper ready for transport.
  1. The rolls can be used for industrial purposes, or sent to manufacturers who cut them down and then make them into products like printer paper, newspaper, or books.

Because of these complexities, various municipalities have different rules for how to recycle shredded paper. Depending on where you live, you may need to put shredded paper in a clear plastic bag, a paper bag, or in a cardboard box before the sanitation department will accept it for recycling.

Therefore, you should always check with your local authority to know how to prepare your shredded paper for recycling. There are also ways to reuse paper, shredded or otherwise.

As long as it’s not coated in plastic, you can compost most types of paper. You could also reuse shredded paper to wrap fragile items to keep them safe in storage or transport, or even make new sheets of recycled paper.

Step-by-step guide on how to recycle shredded paper

Like other types of paper, shredded paper can be recycled, but you need to handle and manage it appropriately. Here’s how to recycle shredded paper, step by step.

1. Do your research

If you want to know how to recycle shredded paper, the first thing you’ll need to do is check with your local sanitation department, as curbside collection rules vary from city to city. Ask them if they’ll accept shredded paper for recycling, and in what form.

Though most towns take this kind of material, if your local authority doesn’t accept it, you’ll need to find a recycling center near you that does. You can find one using online search tools like Earth 911.

shredded paper recycling locations
Do your research to find local recycling centers that accept shredded paper

2. Pack it up

Package the shredded paper up following their instructions. If your local authority or recycling facility doesn’t have specific rules or guidelines, put it in a paper bag or cardboard box and use a marker to label it with “shredded paper” in large letters.

Then store it in a clean, dry place until you can put it out for collection.

shredder paper in a cardboard box

3. Put it out or drop it off

If your local area takes shredded paper for recycling curbside, simply put it out for collection on the appropriate day. If sending to a recycling center, see if they offer a pickup service, otherwise you’ll need to drop it off at the facility.

You might have to pay a fee for them to take shredded paper off your hands, but it’s a small price to pay to protect the environment.

4. Keep track of take-back programs

In many locations, authorities run “take back” days where the community is invited to bring bags of recyclable materials that aren’t accepted curbside, such as shredded documents. Do your research and keep an eye on social media to keep up to date with these programs so you can responsibly dispose of your old documents responsibly. This is one way you can recycle shredded paper.

4. Reuse it

If you’re not sure how to recycle shredded paper, or able to do so easily, there are other options available to you. Some of these include reusing and recycling. Let’s take a closer look at these:

  • Use it for composting – If you’re unable to recycle shredded paper, you’ll be pleased to know that most shredded paper is ideal for the compost bin. Just check that the paper does not contain glossy coating or colored ink (the toxic kind), as this is not suitable for composting. Otherwise, thin newspapers to heavy cardboard are perfect for compost, and shredding them further into small, fine pieces will speed up the process.
  • Cover your outdoor spaces – Shredded paper and cardboard can also be used as mulch to keep weeds away or protect your plants and trees from the cold.
  • Make pet cushions – You can also reuse shredded paper as stuffing for bedding for your furry friends.
  • Use them for seed bombs – Shredded paper is ideal for making seed bombs, a fun and easy way to grow plants from seed. Simply mix shredded paper in a blender with some hot water, before adding a few teaspoons of flower or herb seeds. See full instructions here.
  • Make your own recycled paper – Recycling paper is so easy, you can even do it yourself at home! Handmade paper is ideal for journaling, as a material for crafts, or as a unique gift. You can get creative with different colors and textures – learn the basics with this tutorial.
a sheet of homemade paper
Homemade paper
Source: Flickr / Jimmie Quick

Recycling shredded paper FAQs

Recycling shredded paper can be a little complex, so we’ll clear up any doubts with these answers to commonly asked questions below.

Why should you recycle shredded paper?

Although paper is generally biodegradable, if not recycled properly, it can contribute to land pollution as well as the planet’s growing waste woes. In fact, paper is the third-largest industrial polluter of land, water, and air in the United States and produces approximately 100 million kg of toxic pollution every year.

Furthermore, recycling paper means fewer precious resources are used to manufacture brand new materials. Paper production uses an alarming amount of water: just one sheet of A4 paper needs nearly 20 liters of water for manufacture, as well as wood chips, a major contributor to deforestation.

Is it more difficult to recycle paper if it is shredded?

Yes, shredded paper can be more difficult to recycle than sheets of paper, cardboard boxes, newspapers, or paperback books. This is because shredded pieces may drift or blow away, or can get stuck in recycling machinery.

If you learn anything about how to recycle shredded paper, you’ll then discover that it must actually be separated from other types of paper and prepared appropriately for recycling. Always check with your local authority or recycling center to see how you need to prep this material.

How can I reuse shredded paper?

If you’re not entirely sure how to recycle shredded paper, or confident that you can do so easily, you’ll be pleased to know paper is also easy to reuse. In fact, it’s highly versatile and can be put to a range of uses. It’s ideal for making your own handmade paper, or for repurposing it for practical purposes, from stuffing to garden mulch.

If none of these ideas appeal, you can also put shredded paper in your compost bin.

Final thoughts on how to recycle shredded paper

You may not have thought much about how to recycle shredded paper, but it’s important to know the ins and outs of this process in order to dispose of your old documents responsibly.

If your local area takes shredded paper for recycling curbside, you can easily recycle it this way, though be sure to check how you need to pack it up. Otherwise, you can look for a recycling center that will take shredded paper, compost it, or reuse it.

For more on recycling common household materials, see our guides to responsibly disposing of wood, silicone, and propane gas tanks.

Articles you might also like