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What to Do with Shredded Paper You Can’t Recycle

Have you ever wondered what to do with shredded paper? You might be surprised how many uses there are for it. Because it usually can’t be recycled, it’s nice to find a way to use it more than once before disposing of it.

Shredded paper overflowing a wastepaper basket

Why We Shred Paper

Most people shred paper nowadays to protect their identities. While you can stop your junk mail almost completely and get most of your business correspondence by email, you’ll probably still get a lot of mail and documents with your name and address on them. 

Related: How to Stop Junk Mail in 8 Steps (and never let it start again)

There have been reports over the years of identity theft con artists going through landfills to find personal details they can use. Shredding makes absolutely sure no one will get hold of your identifying information.

Not all shredders are created alike. If you’re looking for a good one, I’ve had this Sentinel cross-cut micro-shredder for 7-8 years and it’s much better than other ones I’ve owned. It never jams and still shreds like it’s brand new.

Sentinel shredder for spredding important papers

Why not just recycle it?

The problem is: all this shredding produces bags and bags of shredded paper. Most recycling centers can’t do anything with shredded paper.

The environmental rule is: “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I’ve reduced my shredded paper by getting fewer documents in paper form to start with. I switch to paperless any chance I get.

As for recycling, there is actually one viable option that won’t work for everyone: you can put (some) shredded paper in your compost heap, if you have one, or someone else’s if you don’t.

It will become part of the soil over time – fully recycled and back to nature. But there are a few caveats.

Pile of shredded newspaper

Composting Shredded Paper

Composting is the most environmentally friendly solution for dealing with shredded paper. 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.

But 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.

That’s reducing and recycling covered. Now to look at what to do with all this shredded paper before composting it!

What Do with Shredded Paper

1. Pack delicate items with it

Delicate china, expensive electronics and other items that need soft padding when they’re boxed will benefit from shredded paper. It beats styrofoam popcorn, bubble wrap and everything else I’ve tried.

This is because you can pack it tightly into those areas where you’re afraid something will rub, bump or shift. That secures your items very well.

Use it for mailing items. Or use it for packing stuff you’re going to put in storage. And use it when you’re moving.

Seriously, I’ve used shredded paper for moving long distance a couple of times. Worked so much better than styrofoam and other packing materials I’ve used in the past.

(Wadded newspaper is also great if you run out of shredded paper.)

Red plush heart in an open cardboard box with shredded paper around it

If you’re concerned about it getting messy or ink getting on fine china, here’s a simple solution: bag your shredded paper in Ziplocs or other plastic bags – it works just like those plastic air pillows some companies use to ship goods.

Then you just pack the Ziploc bags of shredded paper into the box around the delicate items. 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.

2. Scent it with essential oil and make a sachet

Scent a wad of shredded paper with perfume or essential oils, stuff it into a decorative organza bag, tie it up and voila – a nice little sachet to use or give away.

You can also throw in some dried herbs or flowers to enhance the scent. These actually make really nice little party favors that are affordable and easy to make.

Related: DIY Party Favors: Make Them Yourself and Save Money

Sachets of shredded paper and dried herbs

3. Use it as pet 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 professional advice before exposing your pets (or anyone else’s) to shredded paper. Usually, you can just call your veterinarian and speak to a vet tech over the phone and find out all you need to know.

But generally speaking, you can use shredded paper as animal bedding. It can be very comfortable and fun to little animals, too.

And if you don’t have any pets who can use it, you can often donate your shredded paper to a nearby veterinarian so they can use it for the pets they’re keeping overnight.

4. 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.

This is a great way to use less kitty litter. And if you use kitty litter for any other purpose – like putting in a paint can to make it non-liquid so your trash services people will accept it – the paper will work fine for that, too.

5. 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.

Use these recycled papers in photo albums, scrapbooks or other craft projects. Give it to kids for drawing and painting.

Recycled sheets of homemade paper

6. Make papier mache

Add flour and water (equal parts) and you’ve got papier mache for art projects. This can be great fun for kids to play with – or for adults who enjoy making art.

You can also make some decorative items out of papier mache.

7. Use it with 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. (Just advise glossy papers and full-color ads – they tend not to break down as well.)

But you don’t want to use the paper alone. For one thing, if it dries out it will blow away. For another, weeds grow through it easily. And it will look like paper, which isn’t great for curb appeal.

Instead, spread a layer of paper followed by a layer of mulch. That lets you use less mulch while still getting the benefit of the mulch keeping the weeds from getting sun. And it looks nice.

You can also mix shredded paper into a mulch pile, if you have one.

This is a great solution if you don’t have a compost bin. If you don’t have a yard and do apartment composting, you can put shredded paper in your small bin with the vegetables.

8. Make seedling pots

You know those little biodegradable seedling pots you can buy to put soil and seeds into and get them started growing? You can make your own seedling pots out of shredded paper.

You’ll use the papier mache technique – wet the paper, shape it into little pots, let it dry.

Biodegradable seedling pots in plastic bin

9. Use it in potting soil

Just as you can use it as mulch outside, you can also put it into potting soil for house plants. Just scatter some of it through the soil and over time it will be broken down.

10. Use it in your fireplace

You can toss shredded paper into a fireplace or a wood-burning stove, and it will burn nicely. Again, I wouldn’t use glossy paper or any paper you think might be covered in odd chemicals, just in case they would let off fumes you don’t want to breathe.

It’s best to bunch the shredded paper into one or two particular areas in a fireplace rather than just tossing in a handful. Try pressing a wad of shredded paper in your hands to make a ball, and then place it into empty spaces around your logs.

Related: check out 20+ Uses for Used Dryer Sheets

11. Make a super simple fire starter

You can also stuff shredded paper into a toilet paper tube from a used roll (along with highly flammable dryer lint, if you have some on hand) and you have a fire starter.

This is great for getting a fireplace going at home or outdoors on camping trips. It also works in backyard fire pits.

12. Make fire starter bricks

For a more complicated – yet strangely fun – method of making fire starters, you can pulp your shredded paper and mold it into bricks.

Add shredded paper and water into a blender, just like you would to make your own recycled paper. Once it’s all pulpy, shape it with your hands or using some kind of mold.

Give it plenty of time to dry before using it to start a fire.

13. Make fuel bricks to replace wood

If you’re really serious, you can turn your shredded paper into bricks of fuel to use in place of logs or coal in furnaces or fireplaces. Some homesteaders claim to use this exclusively to heat their homes.

It saves trees or coal or whatever your normal fuel would be, and it also saves you money. And again, it’s kind of fun to do once you get the hang of it. (And certainly easier than chopping firewood.)

13. Use it as stuffing

You can stuff all sorts of things with shredded paper. Homemade dolls and soft decorations, for example. Scarecrows if you have a farm.

It may not be that comfortable for a pillow you actually plan to rest on. But for decorative pillows that are just for show? Shredded paper is much cheaper than buying batting.

You may also not want to use shredded paper for dolls kids will play with because it will pack down over time if it’s pressed.

14. Nesting boxes and hutches

If you keep chickens, you can also fill their nesting boxes with shredded paper. It’s a money saver and the birds will like it too.

It can stick to eggs, so if that bothers you this might not be your favorite tip. On the other hand, wood shavings can stick a little, too.

Shredded paper also works well in rabbit hutches. But don’t use it in birdhouses. There’s too much risk of some ink or chemical in the paper harming very small species of birds and especially newly hatched chicks.

15. Use it in place of rice or confetti

Got a wedding or a celebration coming? Toss shredded paper instead of rice or confetti. It has a nice floaty way of falling, compared to confetti, and it certainly won’t leave a bigger mess to clean up.

16. Stuff kids’ costumes

If kids need some extra padding in a costume, shredded paper is great for that. Just stuff it where it needs to go and make sure the ends are closed so it can’t work its way out.

17. Make paper clay for the kids

Pulp your shredded paper, add a few other common household ingredients, and you get paper clay. You don’t make it the same way as papier mache, but it’s similar to work with.

Kids can make it into bowls and other items for fun and crafting.

17. Fill gift bags with it

Gift bags are awesome because the recipient can reuse them. And sometimes they can reuse the tissue paper or shredded tissue that comes with them.

But you can also pad those with shredded paper at the bottom so you can use less tissue paper. This is especially great if you’re making lots of gift bags as party favors or for a group gifting event.

18. Easter Basket grass

Never buy that plastic grass for Easter baskets again. Just use shredded paper. This works best if you have a shredder that does long strips, but cross cut micro shreds work well too.

Pro-tip: you can color the paper green before you shred it. To do this quickly, you can just save some of your Easter egg dye, put it in a spray bottle and spray it onto the paper. Give the pages time to dry before shredding them.

19. 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.

20. Sensory Bins

One really cool thing to do with shredded paper is to put it in a sensory bin for kids to explore. This tip works best with micro-shredded cross cut paper because it forms a heavier mass than long shreds.

And that gives kids something they can really dig around in. Just put the shredded paper in a cardboard box or plastic bin and hide objects in it (or not) and let kids have fun.

21. Use it in artificial floral arrangements

When you’re making an artificial arrangement, you can stuff some shredded paper into the vase as filler so you won’t need to use as many floral pebbles or other vase fillers.

22. Make kneeling pads or firm cushions

Stuff shredded paper tightly into any kind of sturdy bag, seal it with duct tape, and you’ve got a kneeling pad or firm cushion. These are nice for gardeners or anyone who kneels a lot while doing projects.

If you’ve got a broken canvas shopping bag that can’t be repaired, this is a great chance to do something with it instead of throwing it away.

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