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Why Can’t You Recycle Shredded Paper – Eco Truth

Shredded paper, an everyday byproduct of our personal and professional lives, may seem like a prime candidate for recycling. But, contrary to popular belief, it’s not always that simple.

While paper in general is recyclable, shredded paper poses unique challenges that prevent it from being processed in the same manner.

TL;DR: Shredded paper, though made from recyclable materials, often cannot be recycled due to its diminished structural integrity and the challenges it poses to recycling machinery. Instead, consider composting shredded paper or reusing it for other purposes.

The Challenge of Shredded Paper in Recycling Processes

In recycling facilities, paper is sorted by machines with screens and conveyors designed to handle larger pieces. Shredded paper, with its reduced size and altered structure, can fall through these screens, jam the machinery, and disrupt the recycling process.

This means that even if you place shredded paper in your recycling bin, it might end up being diverted to a landfill instead of being recycled.

The Problem of Lost Fiber Length

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: Recycling paper involves breaking it down into its individual fibers, which are then reformed into new paper products.

When paper is shredded, the fibers are cut, reducing their length and thus their ability to bind together when making new paper. This reduction in fiber length decreases the quality of the recycled paper product that can be produced, limiting its utility.

Paper Recycling Codes: An Important Consideration

When it comes to recycling paper, not all types are created equal. Different types of paper have different recycling codes, which you can usually find on the packaging or product itself.

However, once paper is shredded, it’s often impossible to determine its original code. Without this crucial information, recycling facilities cannot properly sort and process the shredded paper, further complicating its recycling.

Table: Common Paper Recycling Codes and Their Meanings

Code Meaning
PAP 20 Corrugated cardboard
PAP 21 Non-corrugated cardboard
PAP 22 Newspaper
PAP 23 Mixed paper
PAP 40 Books

What Can You Do With Shredded Paper?

Given these challenges, you might be wondering: what should you do with shredded paper if you can’t recycle it? Here are a few alternatives I recommend:

  • Composting: Shredded paper is an excellent source of carbon for your compost heap. It can help balance the nitrogen-rich green materials, like food scraps and lawn clippings, contributing to a healthier compost pile.
  • Reuse: Shredded paper can be used in various ways around the house. It makes excellent packing material when sending parcels or storing fragile items. It can also serve as bedding for small pets.
  • Crafting: Shredded paper can be a fun and versatile material for craft projects. Try making homemade paper, papier-mâché, or use it for collage art.

Community-Based Solutions

Some communities have specialized facilities or programs that can accept shredded paper for recycling or composting. I recommend checking with your local waste management facility or recycling program to see if they can take shredded paper.

Paper Recycling: An Intricate Process

To better understand why shredded paper cannot be recycled in the traditional sense, it’s essential to comprehend the intricacies of the paper recycling process.

When paper enters a recycling facility, it’s sorted and processed in a series of steps. These steps include pulping, where the paper is mixed with water and chemicals to break it down into its constituent fibers, and de-inking, where the pulp mixture is cleaned and any ink, glue, or other contaminants are removed.

The cleaned pulp is then drained on a fine mesh to create a mat of intertwined fibers. This mat is pressed and dried to create new paper. However, shredded paper, with its shorter fiber lengths, has a decreased capacity to interlink and create a strong paper product.

Moreover, the de-inking process can be more challenging with shredded paper. The shredding process can drive ink deeper into the paper fibers, making it harder to remove during the de-inking stage.

Shredded Paper and Cross-Contamination

Another important point to mention is the potential for cross-contamination. While the recycling process is designed to separate and remove non-paper materials, shredded paper can make this process more difficult.

For instance, if you shred paper with plastic window envelopes, staples, or paperclips, the resulting shredded paper can contaminate the recycling process with non-recyclable elements.

The Importance of Source Separation

The concept of source separation in recycling refers to the practice of separating waste materials at their origin. For example, at home or the office, you separate paper, plastics, metals, and other recyclables into different bins.

Source separation is vital for efficient and effective recycling. However, shredded paper throws a wrench into this process.

When paper is shredded, it becomes almost impossible to determine the type of paper it was initially, making source separation difficult and hampering the recycling process.

Shredded Paper and Composting

While we’ve already touched on the topic of composting shredded paper. Paper is high in carbon and can balance the nitrogen in your compost pile, creating a nutrient-rich soil amendment for your garden.

However, it’s important to be selective about the shredded paper you add to your compost pile. Avoid paper that’s coated with plastic or foil, colored with heavy metals, or printed with non-soy-based inks, as these can contaminate your compost.

Always aim for plain, uncoated, and black and white printed paper for composting.

The Role of Local Government and Recycling Companies

As mentioned, some local governments and recycling companies have programs to recycle shredded paper.

Often, these programs require you to bag your shredded paper separately to prevent it from mixing with other recyclables and causing machinery issues. These specialized programs can give your shredded paper a second life and help reduce landfill waste.

A Word on Shredding

On a final note, it’s important to mention that not all paper needs to be shredded. While shredding is necessary for sensitive documents to protect personal information, many other types of paper can be safely recycled without shredding.

Limiting the amount of paper you shred can help reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.


Shredded paper is tricky for recycling because it can mess up machines and it’s too short to make new paper. Instead of recycling, you can compost shredded paper, use it as packing material, or for crafts. Each place is different, so check with your local recycling center if they can take shredded paper.

To help the environment, only shred documents with personal info and recycle the rest normally. This way, you reduce waste and make recycling easier.


Can I put shredded paper in my recycling bin?

Although shredded paper is technically recyclable, it’s generally not recommended to place it in your recycling bin due to the issues it can cause in recycling machinery. Check with your local recycling facility for their specific guidelines.

What can I do with shredded paper instead of recycling it?

Shredded paper can be composted, reused for packing material or pet bedding, or used for crafts. Some communities also have specialized facilities that can process shredded paper.

Should I shred all my paper waste?

No, only sensitive documents need to be shredded to protect personal information. Non-sensitive paper can be recycled as is, which helps preserve the length of the paper fibers and improves the quality of the recycled paper product.


  • Chris Chamberlan

    Chris Chamberlan, passionate animal welfare activist and USC graduate, conducted undercover RSPCA missions exposing slaughterhouse malpractices. A vegan and advocate for humane treatment, Chris has spoken at international conferences, been involved in vegan outreach, and founded Solarpunk Solutions for sustainability. His blending of animal welfare with eco-living principles for a compassionate future.

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