Why Shredded Paper Cannot Be Recycled

If you have a paper shredder at home or work, you may wonder if you can recycle the shredded paper it produces. Unfortunately, most recycling facilities cannot process shredded paper.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Shredded paper fibers are too small and short for recycling equipment to properly sort, process, and turn into new paper products.

Paper Recycling Process Overview

When it comes to recycling, paper is one of the most commonly recycled materials. However, not all types of paper can be recycled, and shredded paper is one of them. Understanding the paper recycling process can shed some light on why shredded paper cannot be recycled.

How Paper is Recycled

The paper recycling process begins with collection. Paper is collected through curbside recycling programs, drop-off centers, and commercial recycling bins. Once collected, the paper is sorted based on its grade and quality. This step ensures that the paper can be properly processed.

After sorting, the paper is then sent to a recycling facility. At the facility, the paper is mixed with water and chemicals to break it down into a pulp. This pulping process separates the fibers from the ink and other contaminants. The resulting pulp is then cleaned and bleached to remove any remaining impurities.

Next, the pulp is formed into new sheets of paper. This can either be done through a machine that molds the pulp into sheets or by spreading the pulp onto a screen to dry. The sheets are then pressed and dried to remove any excess moisture.

Why Long Paper Fibers Are Needed

One of the reasons why shredded paper cannot be recycled is due to the length of the paper fibers. During the recycling process, the fibers in the paper pulp are broken down and shortened. This is necessary to create new paper products. However, shredded paper has already been cut into small pieces, resulting in shorter fibers.

The length of the paper fibers is important because it affects the strength and quality of the new paper products. Longer fibers provide better strength and durability, making them ideal for producing high-quality paper. Shredded paper, with its shorter fibers, cannot provide the same level of strength and may result in weaker paper products.

Furthermore, the shorter fibers in shredded paper can also clog the recycling machinery. These small pieces can get stuck in the equipment, leading to breakdowns and inefficiencies in the recycling process. To avoid these issues, it is best to dispose of shredded paper in the regular trash or find alternative uses for it, such as composting or using it as packaging material.

For more information on paper recycling and how to properly dispose of shredded paper, you can visit https://www.epa.gov/recycle/paper-recycling.

Size and Shape of Shredded Paper

When it comes to recycling, most people assume that shredded paper would be a prime candidate. It’s paper, after all, and recycling paper is a great way to reduce waste and protect the environment. However, the reality is that shredded paper often cannot be recycled. The size and shape of shredded paper pose significant challenges for recycling facilities.

Shredders Produce Tiny Paper Pieces

One of the main reasons why shredded paper cannot be recycled is because shredders produce tiny paper pieces. These pieces are typically much smaller than the standard size of recycled paper that recycling facilities can process. Shredders are designed to cut paper into small strips or confetti-like pieces, which may be convenient for disposal or security reasons, but it makes recycling difficult.

Imagine trying to put together a puzzle with thousands of tiny pieces. It would be incredibly time-consuming and frustrating. The same principle applies to recycling shredded paper. The small size of the shredded pieces makes it difficult for recycling facilities to handle and process them efficiently.

Too Small for Screens and Rollers

Another reason why shredded paper cannot be recycled is that it is too small for the screens and rollers used in the recycling process. Recycling facilities often use screens and rollers to separate different types of paper and remove contaminants. These screens have specific mesh sizes that allow larger pieces of paper to pass through while capturing smaller particles.

However, the shredded paper pieces are often so small that they slip through the screens, making it impossible to separate them from other materials effectively. As a result, the shredded paper can end up contaminating other recyclable materials, reducing the overall quality of the recycled products.

It’s important to note that not all recycling facilities have the equipment or technology to handle shredded paper. Some facilities may accept shredded paper if it is contained in a paper bag or mixed with other larger pieces of paper. However, it’s always best to check with your local recycling facility to determine their specific guidelines.

Contamination and Sorting Issues

When it comes to recycling, shredded paper poses a unique challenge due to contamination and sorting issues. Let’s explore why shredded paper cannot be recycled effectively.

Shredding Mixes Different Paper Grades

One of the main reasons why shredded paper cannot be recycled is because the shredding process mixes different paper grades together. Shredders are designed to handle various types of paper, including envelopes, office documents, newspapers, and magazines. However, once shredded, it becomes difficult to separate these different paper grades effectively.

Recycling facilities rely on the separation of paper grades to produce high-quality recycled paper products. The mixing of different paper grades from shredded paper can lead to a lower-quality end product. Additionally, the fibers in shredded paper become shorter and less valuable during the shredding process, further diminishing its recycling potential.

Hard to Separate Shredded Scraps

Another challenge with shredded paper is the difficulty in separating the small scraps during the recycling process. Traditional recycling machinery is not designed to effectively separate and sort small pieces of shredded paper. The tiny fragments tend to get lost or mixed with other materials, making it hard to recover and recycle them.

Furthermore, shredded paper particles can contaminate other recyclables, such as plastic or glass. This contamination hinders the recycling process and can result in entire batches of recyclables being rejected or sent to landfill instead.

Did you know? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shredded paper can be recycled if it is properly contained and labeled as shredded paper. Some recycling facilities have specialized equipment that can handle shredded paper, but these facilities are not as common.

When Shredded Paper Can Be Recycled

Shredded paper is a common byproduct of document destruction and can be found in offices, homes, and businesses. While recycling paper is generally encouraged to reduce waste and promote sustainability, shredded paper poses unique challenges in the recycling process. However, there are certain situations where shredded paper can indeed be recycled.

Specialty Shredding and Recycling Facilities

Specialty shredding and recycling facilities are equipped to handle shredded paper efficiently. These facilities have advanced sorting and processing systems that can effectively separate shredded paper from other materials. By using specialized machinery and techniques, they can overcome the difficulties associated with recycling shredded paper.

When shredded paper is sent to these facilities, it goes through a series of steps to remove contaminants, such as plastic or metal particles, that may be present. The paper is then pulped and processed into new paper products, just like any other recycled paper. Therefore, if you have a large quantity of shredded paper, it is worth exploring local specialty facilities that can properly recycle it.

Composting Shredded Paper

Another eco-friendly option for disposing of shredded paper is through composting. Shredded paper is a great source of carbon, which is an essential component in composting. When added to a compost pile, shredded paper helps create a well-balanced environment for the decomposition process.

However, it is important to note that not all types of shredded paper are suitable for composting. Avoid using shredded paper that has been treated with chemicals or ink that may be harmful to plants or the environment. Stick to using shredded paper from non-toxic sources, such as office documents or newspapers.

When composting shredded paper, make sure to mix it with other compostable materials like food scraps, yard waste, and leaves. This will create a diverse mixture that promotes the breakdown of organic matter and encourages the production of nutrient-rich compost.

Remember, composting shredded paper is a great way to reduce waste and contribute to the health of your garden or plants.


While putting shredded paper in your curbside recycling bin may seem convenient, it unfortunately causes more harm than good. The tiny shreds can jam equipment and reduce the value of recycled paper bales. Composting shreds or finding a specialty recycler are better options. With a bit of extra care, we can keep paper recycling running smoothly.

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