Can you put shredded paper in the recycling bin? Short answer is NO

Like many of you I embraced the recycling movement and have been diligently recycling for all of my adult life, or at least I thought I had! This article concerns one of my recycling oopsies – “shredded paper recycling”.

In this example of recycling gone wrong we’ll look at shredded paper recycling.

Why do people put shredded paper into recycling? Answer: It’s complicated

There are a couple main reasons why people put shredded and small pieces of paper into the recycling bin.

  1. The bin label says so. This is the most obvious reason as the label on bin and other signs indicate that paper, cardboard, glass etc should be placed in the recycling bin. And shredded paper is, well, paper. 
  2. Paper based education. Yes, another reason is due to education. Not in the do’s and don’ts of recycling as the people in recycling know are reading this article with a smug smile on their face. But rather in the knowledge that paper is made from pulp and from this knowledge it is both a logical and erroneous step to the conclusion that shredded paper in the recycling bin would only help make the recycling plants process easier right? Right?Wrong!

Why people should NOT put shredded paper into recycling! Answer: Reduce Wastage

Simply put shredded paper should not go into the recycling bin and there are two very good reasons for this:

  1. Most recycling processes require materials to be sorted (plastics from glass from metals from paper) and during this process the lighter smaller pieces of paper including shredded paper end up being blown to the floor or washed out of the other materials. If you would like to know more, see the video at the bottom of the page.
  2. Recycling paper is dependent upon the fibre size of the paper however both tissue paper and shredded paper have fibres too short for recycling. So the tiny fraction of shredded paper which makes it through the process typically ends up as a waste product destined for compost.

What this means is that shredded paper put into recycling not only ends up as a recycling waste product (going to either land fill or compost) but also wastes space, time and energy in the recycling process.

What should people do with shredded and small pieces of waste paper? Answer: Redact or compost

Taking a step backwards from shredded paper, there is the option of using a permanent marker to blank out the offending personal or confidential details that typically leads to shredding. The paper recycling process includes a de-inking stage so there is no issue with adding more ink.

However, for those where blanking out details is not an option then the next easiest step is composting.  Shredded paper is a great alternative to sawdust for composting and should be used in your own composting or sent to your government composting site in your green bin (or as per your local government instructions). If you would like to know more see the link to composting with shredded paper below.

Is there a bigger lesson to be learned? Answer: It pays to do some research

If you are like the author then there was another lesson learned from this article and that is when it comes to recycling knowing what you should and should not do is not as intuitive as one would think.

So when it comes to sustainability it pays to do a bit of research. Fortunately Reduce Wastage dot Org exists to help spread this knowledge.

Single Stream Recycling Plant

Check out the video below of a single stream recycling plant to see why it cannot cope with shredded paper. 

Would you like to know more?


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1 Response

  1. March 22, 2019

    […] or bigger. This is due to smaller items ending up as waste during the recycling processing. See article on shredded paper for more […]

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