Is shredded paper recyclable?

In this article, I will discuss the conditions which need to be met to recycle shredded paper. I  will also discuss how paper is recycled, and what grades of papers are considered fit for recycling.

Can we recycle shredded paper? 

Yes, shredded paper can be recycled but there are certain conditions that have to be met. 

Shredding paper is common practice in most offices and institutions. The average office worker uses around 10,000 sheets of paper annually, most of which end up in the trash. Most companies shred sensitive documents to prevent competitors from getting access to them or to maintain the privacy of the clients. Shredding paper is common in many households as well, where sensitive documents are shredded in fear of identity theft. 

Shredding documents is almost unavoidable, however, more attention has been given in recent years to the sheer volume of paper waste offices create. More and more companies are becoming aware of their enormous paper costs and are making sustainable changes. Nevertheless, tons of paper are still shredded daily. 

In many cities, shredded paper is recycled but there are conditions. Since shredded paper is so small and it’s hard to keep in one place, you’re required to put shredded paper into small, clear plastic bags. Make sure to tie the bag up tightly. 

Not all cities take shredded paper up for recycling, the small size of the pieces of paper make it very hard to contain in a recycling plant. 

Why is shredded paper so difficult to recycle?

As explained in the previous section, shredded paper is very hard, almost impossible to sort in the recycling center. This is why many cities do not take it as a recyclable material. To find out the position your city takes, check out the city’s website. 

Many cities in the UK and US explicitly tell their citizens not to throw shredded paper in the recycling bin. For example, Fareham in the UK explains thoroughly why it doesn’t recycle shredded paper. On the contrary, some cities make an effort to educate their citizens on how to recycle shredded paper, like Madison, Wisconsin in the USA.

The reason why not all factories want to take this waste is mainly due to its size. If it is not separately put into a clear plastic bag, the sorter in the recycling station will have a very hard time with the small pieces of paper. Since these papers can fly around in the factory and land on different machinery, they are considered a fire hazard. 

Also keep in mind that some recycle centers still sort material manually, throwing shredded documents along with larger papers would mean workers have to separate it by hand. It is a painstaking process and no one enjoys it. Which is all the more reason to dispose of the shredded papers responsibly. 

Another important thing to remember is that to recycle paper, paper is first separated into types and grades. The shredded paper would be very difficult for the factory to separate, thus it’s better to separate the paper based on grades and types before shredding and placing them in separate bags. 

The good news is, most recycling plants consider shredded paper in the mixed category so no separation before shredding is necessary. 

Contaminants are considered to be anything in the paper that will affect its recyclability, i.e. glue, staple pins, plastic, metal, etc. These materials often make the paper unrecyclable. This is why it is important to separate these from the paper before shredding. 

 

What types of paper are recycled? 

Paper is classified into multiple grades before recycling. These grades are determined basef on the quality and texture of the paper. The five main categories according to the EPA archives are:

  • Old corrugated containers, or corrugated cardboard. Mills use these papers to make packaging boxes, such as cargo boxes, food-grade boxes, and shoe boxes.
  • Old newspapers are used to make newsprint, paperboard, and tissues.
  • Mixed paper, as the name, suggests it’s a mix of magazines, telephone books among others. The shredded paper falls under this category. This type is recycled into an array of different materials such as egg cartons, recycled paper, gypsum, roofing felt, etc.
  • High grade deinked paper, these are the premium quality papers such as office-grade papers like letterhead and printing paper. These are recycled into high-grade papers like printing and writing paper or tissue.
  • Pulp substitutes are often made from shavings and chippings from mills and workshops which are used to make high-grade papers.  

How much paper is recycled? 

Over 50% of the paper produced is recycled globally. Paper is the most widely recycled material in the world, this is largely due to two reasons, firstly, it can be recycled multiple times, and most cities have paper recycling bins on the footpaths. Most municipalities also have extensive recycling programs for paper, which is why more than 50% of the paper used is recycled in most of the developed countries. 

There is a strong push by the eco-friendly community to use recycled paper which is pressuring more companies to use recycled packaging as a way to retain a lot of its customers. 

According to the EPA, in 2018 approximately 68% of paper was recycled in the United States and the amount of paper that reaches the landfills is steadily declining. This is great news as 1 ton of paper takes up 3.3 cubic meters of landfill space. The EPA also states that by recycling 1 ton of paper, we save around 17 trees, 7 gallons of water, and hundreds of gallons of petroleum. 

Worldwide, 10% of deforestation occurs to make wood-based products which include paper. By increasing the rate of recycling, it is possible to reduce rates of deforestation, although the major perpetrators of deforestation need to be urgently brought under control. 

How is paper recycled? 

At first, a worker will take the plastic bags with the shredded paper out of the pile of other materials. Then the downstream process is similar for all papers. There are 4 main steps in paper recycling, sorting, pulping, de-inking, and lastly new papermaking. 

In the sorting step, paper is separated based on type, as for shredded paper it is placed with mixed type. 

In the pulping step, the paper is washed with soapy water to make a “slush”. This step has two purposes, to wash most chemical contaminants such as glue and water-soluble ink off the paper, and remove solid contaminants such as metal clips and plastic. The slush is filtered through filtration systems of varying sizes multiple times to remove plastic, metal, or chunks of glue. 

The next step is de-inking, where ink is removed from the paper. This is achieved by a series of mechanical and chemical processes. The paper is shredded and then dissolved in the water alongside other chemicals which separate the ink from the paper. Once the ink is removed the paper is bleached for new paper-making. 

In new-paper making, the pulp is first mixed with wood shavings to give the paper strength and durability. Some plants do not add wood shavings as it’s not a compulsory step. 

The pulp is then mixed with certain chemicals and ample hot water. 

Then a combination of mechanical actions is applied to dry the pulp and then it’s put in an industrial roller which flattens it to make paper. 

Conclusion

In this article, I discussed the conditions which need to be met to recycle shredded paper. This article also discussed how paper is recycled, and what grades of papers are considered fit for recycling. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Is Shredded paper recyclable? 

Is shredded paper OK to recycle? 

Yes. It is ok to recycle shredded paper. Most cities’ recycling centers take the shredded paper.

However, you should make sure what your city’s position is on recycling shredded paper first. 

What bag do I put shredded paper to recycle? 

Either a clear plastic bag or a paper bag. Some recycling centers ask for a clear plastic bag, however, some centers ask for a paper bag. Whichever it is, make sure you seal the bag well so the paper doesn’t escape the bag. Small papers fly all over the place and often get stuck in machinery and can be a fire hazard in the recycling centers. 

How do I find out if my city recycles shredded paper?

You can find out this information on your city municipality’s website. 

Is shredded paper garbage or recyclable? 

Shredded paper can be recycled. However, not all cities accept shredded paper. This means you need to check out your city’s stance from their website. 

What if my city doesn’t recycle shredded paper?

There are other ways to deal with shredded paper, you may reuse it as packing material, or as bedding for your pet. If you’re into gardening then you can make compost out of shredded paper. There are pick-up services that come and pick up your documents to be shredded for a small fee. They will dispose of the paper, you can rest at ease handing the papers over to them. 

Is shredded paper compostable? 

Yes. Shredded paper is after all mostly organic and can be made into compost. There are composting centers that take shredded paper from individuals. You should check if any such are available near your house. 

References: 

  1. Recycling | Paper Recycling Process. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.recycle-more.co.uk/recycling/paper/paper-recycling-process
  2. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://moftarchive.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/20170503-Everything-You-Need-to-Know-About-Paper-Recycling.pdf
  3. Council, F. (2021). Why We Don’t Collect Shredded Paper in Recycling. Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.fareham.gov.uk/waste_collection_and_recycling/recycling/nearest_recycling/shreddedpaper.aspx
  4. How to recycle shredded paper | Recycle Coach. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://recyclecoach.com/blog/how-to-recycle-shredded-paper/
  5. Can Shredded Paper Be Recycled?. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.greenmatters.com/p/recycling-shredded-paper
  6. Industry Resources | AF&PA. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.afandpa.org/statistics-resources/resources
  7. Understanding The Paper Recycling Process | iSustain Recycling. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://isustainrecycling.com/understanding-the-paper-recycling-process/
  8. Paper Recycling Coalition » Paper Recycling Terminology. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.paperrecyclingcoalition.com/faqs/paper-recycling-terminology/
  9. Paper and Paperboard: material-specific Data | US EPA. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/paper-and-paperboard-material-specific-data
  10. Paper recycling rate at about 66 percent in 2020. (2021). Retrieved 29 November 2021, from https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/paper-recycling-rate-66-percent-2020/

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