The Skinny on Recycling Shredded Paper

Steven V.  from Chicago writes: "Can you recycle shredded paper?"

As paperless billing and banking gain popularity, hopefully, we'll have less paper to shred. Because truth is, shredding paper is great for security, but not so good for recyclability.

Shredded paper is not accepted in Chicago's recycling program but it can be recycled at citywide shredding events.

Why shredded paper isn't accepted in the Blue Cart

Since paper, junk mail, magazines, and catalogs are accepted for recycling, it might seem odd that shredded paper is not. It is just- paper.  So what makes shredded paper more difficult to recycle? Its size and shape. 

1. )  Collection & Sorting

Once those small bits of paper mix with the other recyclables in the truck, they're nearly impossible to collect. Instead, shredded paper clings to the other items, flitters around the recycling facility, and/or sticks to the equipment's gears. 

You may remember when bagged shredded paper could be placed in the recycling cart. That ended with the 'Go Bagless' initiative because "No bagged recyclables" means bagged shredded paper had to go too.  

2.  )  Recyclability

Unlike aluminum, steel, and glass, paper can't be recycled infinitely. The longer and stronger a paper product's fibers are, the more times it can be recycled.

Shredding paper cuts its fibers and reduces its recyclability. For instance, a new sheet of office paper can generally be recycled 5-7 times. But if that same paper is shredded, its lifecycle is dramatically shortened. 

Where to recycle shredded paper in Chicago

It is possible to recycle shredded paper when it's collected separately from other recyclables. That's where Chicago's Community Shred Events come in. 

Hosted by the City, Aldermen, and civic groups from March through November, these shredding events are an easy way to recycle your shreds for free. Free shredding of confidential documents (up to 2 bankers boxes full) is also provided onsite.  

Shredding services at the events are provided care of Midway Moving Co. If you see them re-shredding your shreds, don't be alarmed. Re-shredding creates uniform-size shreds which paper recyclers prefer. Shredded paper is commonly recycled into tissues, tissue paper and packaging including egg cartons and paper berry baskets. 

These shredding events are provided for confidential documents only. Colored paper, newspaper, and general junk mail are not accepted. 

View the Community Shredding Events Calendar.

Other ways to keep shredded paper out of the landfill 


Shredded paper can be used like leaves to provide carbon to your compost bin (especially useful in the winter when leaves are scarce.) Shredded documents are considered safe for composting, as most inks are soy based these days. Avoid adding colored paper and glossy paper to your compost bin to be safe.  


Shredded paper can be used to make gift-worthy seed bombs (a party favor favorite): 

via: HGTV

Or make firestarters with the help of candle wax, dryer lint, and an egg carton.

view the how-to here, via: Every Nothing Wonderful

One last tip:

Only shred the necessary stuff.

Many documents contain private information only on a page or two. Save the other pages from the short-lived life of a shred, and toss them whole into the blue cart instead.    

Midway Moving Co



In partnership with

City of Chicago

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