I shred a lot of paper nowadays to protect my identity. While I’ve stopped my junk mail (almost completely, for three years) and get most of my business correspondence and statements in a paperless format, I still find myself disposing of quite a few documents bearing my name or other identifying information. What can I do with all that shredded paper?
This producers bags and bags of trashed paper. Recycling is actually not always an option. Many recycling centers can’t do anything with thoroughly shredded paper. Some can handle long thick shreds, but how secure are those? I use a cross-cut micro-shredder by Sentinel.
The rule is: “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I’ve reduced my shredded paper by getting fewer documents in paper form to start with. As for recycling, there is actually a viable option: put shredded paper in your compost heap, if you have one, or someone else’s if you don’t. This is the most environmentally friendly solution. Consider it “brown” waste and put an appropriate amount into your heap, then let the microorganisms and/or worms in the soil do the recycling. Note: don’t put glossy paper or cellophane from envelope windows into your composting. Those aren’t biodegradable. Don’t worry if small amounts of them end up in your compost heap, because you can pull them out later when you go through the composted soil. Chances are you won’t be shredding much of either of these.
That’s reducing and recycling covered. Now if we can just find some uses for the shredded paper before we resort to composting it!
Things to do with shredded paper
- Pack stuff with it. Delicate china, expensive electronics… shredded paper beats styrofoam popcorn hands down because you can really pack it into those areas where you’re afraid something will rub, bump or shift. Use it for mailing items (if you’re sending it away, make sure your shredder leaves it in very tiny pieces to protect whatever was on that paper from prying eyes). Use it for packing stuff you’re going to stick in the garage or a storage area. Seriously – this stuff can move a whole house without anything breaking – I’ve used it for moving long distance a couple of times. Obviously, it can get messy, but here’s a simple solution: bag it in Ziplocs or other plastic bags – it works just like those plastic air pillows some companies use to ship goods. You or the recipient (if it’s a gift) can then reuse the whole shredded paper “pillows”, or take the paper out for the compost heap and just reuse the bag.
- Scent it with essential oil and make a sachet. Most essential oils will overwhelm the scent of most papers, so you can tie up scented paper shredding in something (bonus points if you use a recycled coffee filter), and voila – a nice little sachet to use or give away.
- Use it as animal bedding, or donate it to a vet, animal shelter, etc. Note that some paper and ink materials can be toxic to some critters, so get some advice before exposing your pets (or anyone else’s) to something that might hurt them.
- Extend your kitty litter. Pad your litter box with shredded paper before putting the crystals on top. The crystals still do their work, but you need fewer of them. Very smart!
- Make your own paper. Recycle your shredded paper into homemade sheets of paper, which are great for correspondence, scrapbooks, gift tags, etc. You can buy a paper making kit that makes it very simple, and the results are often beautiful.
- Make papier mache. Add flour and water (equal parts) and you’ve got papier mache for art projects.
- Use it as mulch. You can plant shredded paper directly as mulch around trees and gardens. The soil microorganisms will “eat” the paper the same way they would in a compost heap.
- Use it in place of rice or confetti. Got a wedding or a celebration coming? Toss shredded paper instead of rice or confetti.
- Stuff scarecrows or costumes. If you’ve got a scarecrow, you can stuff it with shredded paper instead of straw. You can also stuff kids’ costumes with it, if they need some extra padding.
- Let kids use it for art projects. Encourage them to get creative. One really good use of shredded paper is to make sculptures or raised pictures with it, dampening it slightly to keep the shreds where they belong. Then you can use spray on gesso or another finishing agent to freeze them permanently in place.
- Use it as Easter basket grass and other decor. This is a really nice use of it, especially compared to using plastic grass. If some shredded paper winds up on the lawn, no problem.
Originally published May 9, 2011