Is Shredded Paper Recyclable?

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 must be downcycled into tissue or toilet paper. While these materials are still valuable, they’re not as valuable as nice, white office paper with long fibers.

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.

Keep in mind that shredded paper has to be contained during transportation, so if your community recycling program doesn’t accept paper or plastic bags, it likely won’t take shredded paper.

However, 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 what is included in the e-cycling event.

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.

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Feature image: Flickr/Mike Haw

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  1. Very interesting. I had no idea that the “size of the paper” mattered. It is so important to shred personal information, but I guess don’t go crazy because it reduces the value of the paper and then must be turned into toilet paper! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Yes, yet another very interesting article from an Earth911 writer!!!! I had no idea about the importance of long fibers either! I have another question somewhat related to this article, so I’m hoping Megan can answer: Los Angeles and Santa Monica have (CA) mixed source recycling bins for residents, where papers, cans, bottles, and a few other items are tossed in the same curbside bin and then sorted at the plant.

    I know that paper that’s touched food, e.g. pizza boxes, aren’t recyclable b/c it’s difficult to get the grease off the board/paper. And although all materials that are thrown in a recycling bin should be rinsed out, there are food particles lurking in there. So if a mixed source bin has some leftover peanut butter, let’s say, how are the papers that come into contact with it not deemed un-recyclable? Thanks in advance!

  3. Author

    Hi Sheda,
    Single-stream recycling was designed to make it easier for consumers to recycle, but there is always the risk of contamination. See here: But that shouldn’t deter you from recycling! Recycling centers have staff that determine if paper is “un-recyclable” and then pick it out by hand.

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