Here at Earth911, we’re often asked, “Is shredded paper recyclable?” The answer is, “Yes, but … .”
Paper consists of fibers. The longer the fiber, the more valuable the paper is during the recycling process. As paper is recycled over and over, the fibers become shorter and therefore less valuable. Eventually, it must be downcycled into tissue or toilet paper.
Shredding the paper speeds up this process. Once you shred your personal documents, it shortens the fibers and lowers the grade of paper from high grade to mixed grade. Mixed grade paper is still recyclable, but you may have a harder time finding a recycler who will take it.
Because it must be contained during transportation, shredded paper usually isn’t accepted in curbside recycling programs. However, it’s worth checking with your local program. They may accept shredded paper if it’s contained in a recyclable paper bag.
If you can’t recycle it curbside, all is not lost. When communities hold e-cycling events, document destruction is often included, so check with your local recycling center or household hazardous waste facility to see if they’ll accept shredded paper at the next e-cycling event.
Or simply use Earth911 Recycling Search and enter your ZIP code to find a recycling location near you.
And before shredding your paper, think about why you need to shred it. Are there are just a few lines of information that you want to keep protected? Then try using whiteout or ink to conceal the information. Ink and whiteout don’t affect the recycling process.
Paper is also compostable, so if you must shred your paper, try mixing it with your compost pile — of course, this is best with nontoxic inks.
Originally published on April 19, 2011, this article was updated in March 2022.