Both companies and individuals shred paper to protect their sensitive data.
Along with cardboard, many people want to know what they can recycle and how to go about it. Are shredded paper scraps and cardboard recyclable, or do you need to find a new use for them?
Can you recycle shredded paper and cardboard?
Shredded paper is too small to confidently be recycled and can even contaminate the process of manufacturing new items. Cardboard can often be recycled, but it must be completely clean and free of food and beverage as well as wax coatings.
Let’s learn a little more about how some of our paper products can and cannot be recycled:
What Type of Paper Can Be Recycled?
How many different types of paper do you come in contact with daily?
Without ever leaving your home, you probably encounter a dozen different types of paper each morning.
Many of these items can easily be recycled, but not all of them.
You must learn the differences among different paper types to be educated on what can and cannot make its way into your recycling bin.
Start With the Basics:
White office paper is easily recycled.
You can also recycle your old newspapers, colored office paper, cardboard, white computer paper, magazines, catalogs, and even phone books if you have any.
If your paper has been coated with something or treated in some way, this negatively impacts its ability to be recycled. Avoid putting paper in the recycling bin if it is covered in food waster or grease.
Similarly, this means that juice and cereal containers should not be recycled. Paper cups and paper towels are also on the list of items that cannot be recycled.
While regular newspapers and magazines can be recycled, those that are laminated with plastic cannot be.
Why is it Difficult to Recycle Shredded Paper?
Shredded paper can technically be recycled, but it is a much more complicated process than recycling the whole piece of paper.
When you lump together your shredded paper and stuff it into the recycling bin, it heads off to the factory to be remade into new paper products.
Unfortunately, the small size of shredded paper makes it easy to slip through the paper separator.
This can cause the entire process of new paper-making to become contaminated. Not only that, but the shredded paper has smaller fibers that can severely impact how the paper can be used in the future. The pieces are simply too small to be used in new paper products.
Many recycling facilities bundle up products to sell them for a profit. For example, they make mountains of aluminum cans or plastics to be resold.
These companies do not want any shredded paper to become mixed in with other items. Unfortunately, the paper shreds are often so small that it is hard to sort them out.
This is why they ask that people do not try to recycle shredded paper.
Instead, you might want to consider composting it or burning it. Both are quick and easy options to help you get rid of unwanted shredded paper safely.
Alternatively, there are other ways that you can use it around the house so that it does not go to waste.
For example, many people like to use it for bedding for their small animals!
What About Cardboard?
The cardboard itself is also a recyclable material, but there are a lot of scenarios where it cannot be reused again.
You must pay attention to the state of your cardboard and how well it was taken care of. Make sure that you look carefully at the cardboard before you take it to your local recycling center.
One common reason that cardboard cannot be recycled is that it is contaminated with food or grease. This particularly applies to pizza boxes.
Many people want to recycle these cardboard boxes but should refrain from doing so if they are coated in grease, as many pizza boxes are. The oil does not allow for the box to be repurposed, so you should instead cut away any clean areas and recycle just these portions.
The same goes for other types of cardboard food containers, such as juice containers or milk cartons.
Another common reason why you cannot recycle cardboard is if it is coated with wax or a similar substance. These types of coatings will not break down and can contaminate a load of recyclable cardboard, so be sure to throw these away elsewhere.
Keep in mind that wet cardboard also cannot be recycled. It weakens the fibers of the board and makes it more difficult to work with.
Wet cardboard also weighs more, and recycling centers do not typically want to pay for the extra weight.
Is Shredded Paper Good for the Garden?
Because shredded paper can be so difficult to recycle, many people want to know how they can repurpose it into something else on their own at home.
The paper breaks down easily enough, so they wonder whether it could be suitable for their garden. In short, the answer is yes.
You can use shredded paper as mulch that can help your garden grow. Remember that you only want to choose papers that will break down easily over time.
This means that you may want to avoid using glossy or colored paper because they will have a more difficult time breaking down.
They may not be the best idea for the soil because of the chemicals and finishes they contain.
Using paper as mulch is great for trees and shrubs in your garden. It can help to keep nutrients close to the roots of your plants, as well as provide warmth and protection.
When you are finished spreading a thin layer of shredded paper around the base of your plants, make sure to cover it with more compost or mulch so that it does not blow away in a heavy wind.
Can I Put Shredded Paper in My Compost?
If you need a place for your shredded paper and you do not want to burn it, placing it in your compost is another good option.
The colored and glossy paper should not be placed in your compost heap, but all other types are safe for decomposing. Some studies show that paper contains less toxic materials than straw or grass.
There is just one primary concern with putting paper on your compost heap. It has a very high carbon content that can throw off the balance of the soil you compost.
Make sure that you keep some high-nitrogen items in your compost heap to help balance out the ratio.
Most people probably do not have enough shredded paper from their home office to have to worry about overloading their compost heap.
Do Worms Eat Shredded Paper?
If you are building a compost heap and want to add your shredded paper, you may want to think about the worms.
They do indeed feed on shredded paper and certain types of cardboard as well!
This is great for getting more recycled things in your compost bin instead of the trash!
What Do Companies Typically Do with Shredded Paper?
Because shredded paper is not typically recyclable, many companies simply throw it away. It goes to a landfill with the rest of their garbage where it will eventually decompose.
Homeowners have a lot of different ways that they can repurpose their shredded paper scraps, but business owners lack a lot of these same options.
One way that they can repurpose their paper without throwing it away is to use it for packaging up fragile items.
Instead of packing peanuts or bubble wrap, shredded paper is a great way to keep delicate items intact during shipping.
How Do Companies Dispose of Confidential Shredded Paper?
One way to handle confidential shredded papers is to hire a document destruction vendor.
They take the shredded paper and provide companies with a certificate to prove that it has been properly disposed of when the job is complete.
Whenever possible, they do make some attempt to recycle it as well.
Where Can You Drop Off Shredded Paper (For Recycling)?
Unfortunately, you cannot put shredded paper in your recycling bin.
It will likely be sorted out and placed in a landfill. Because shredded paper is biodegradable, you may want to consider just taking it to a landfill, to begin with.
However, some people are determined to do everything possible to recycle these shredded fibers of the paper. If this describes you, give your local recycling facility a call and see what they recommend you do with your shredded paper.
If they do not have any options for you, then you may want to consider composting it or burning it on your own. Both are excellent options that are great for the earth.
They also ensure that no one gets a hold of any of your sensitive information if there are financial documents that you needed to shred.
Maria is the founder of GoDownsize. While studying architecture in Denmark she became fascinated with designing living spaces for boats, tiny houses, RVs, and other small spaces.
She mainly writes about space optimization, interior design, and downsizing. She’s also in charge of our YouTube channel. Read more about Maria here.