Does paper shredding have a positive impact on the environment? Yes, but not for all the reasons you may think.
Businesses consume a lot of paper for packaging, documentation, information management, and more. As a business owner, you should be aware of the importance of disposing your sensitive business documents properly. Keeping private information safe is just as important as sustainability.
The main point of recycling in a sustainable manner is to create new paper products from old recycled paper. Recycling paper waste helps to preserve more resources as well as prevent greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, save energy, stimulate growth of greener technologies, create jobs, and reduce the need for landfills. The paper industry recycles and recovers close to 70% of the paper consumed by Americans every year.
Before recycling, people usually shred documents containing information they want to keep private, but this is not always necessary. In fact, many recycling facilities won’t accept shredded paper since the smaller pieces can create waste during the breakdown process. Information that’s blacked out with a marker or cut out from a larger document is still kept private, and the larger pieces of paper are more easily recycled. This doesn’t mean shredding paper isn’t important.
Benefits of Paper Shredding
- Data Security. If you don’t want to black out information, one of the easiest ways of disposing documents containing private information is to shred them. Whether you use a personal industrial shredder or third party shredding service, you can help keep confidential information secure by tearing it to shreds. Check with your local recycling facilities guidelines as to how they prefer to accept shredded paper, or recycle the shreds yourself in the following ways.
- Compost Potential. Shredded paper is the perfect broken down by-product to compost. The best compost is a mixture of green and brown waste. Combine “greens” like fruit peels, veggie trimmings, and fallen leaves with “brown” paper products to help prevent mold and odor, and create an eco-friendly way of saving your shreds from the landfill. Shredded paper can be composted into a rich organic mixture that’s great for both your plants and the soil.
- Packing Materials. People pay good money for soft material to fill their boxes and packages for shipping. Shredded paper fits the requirements, and if you’re looking to shred some documents anyway, you don’t have to pay for more material.
Environmental Impact of Paper and Recycling
Producing paper is expensive. The various costs involved include fuel, labor, transportation, chemicals, and machinery. By shredding and recycling documents, you are reducing the damage and costs of paper production. In addition, the fuel and chemicals used for cutting down trees, transporting them, and transforming them into paper are also damaging the quality of air we breathe—so recycling can save money and improve wellbeing.
A high demand for paper means more trees being cut down. This is detrimental to our environment since trees improve air quality, support ecosystems, and give off precious oxygen. Recycling paper creates more paper products without cutting down trees, all while using materials that would have ended up in landfills. Recycling a single ton of paper alone saves 17 trees, meaning there are more plants to absorb carbon dioxide and purify the air we breathe.
Manufacturing paper requires the largest industrial use of water on a per-pound of paper basis. Roughly 324 liters of water is needed to produce a single kilogram of paper. Recycling paper reduces water consumption dramatically. Recycling also saves this paper from ending up in a landfill. Paper can be recycled five to seven times. Having a shred-on-site approach in your workplace helps sort out the waste that can be recycled and repurposed for your company.
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How Shredded Paper is Recycled
- Rid the documents of any staples, clips, plastics, or metals before shredding.
- Separate the shredded paper from cardboard, office paper, and newspaper.
- Secure all shredded paper pieces in clear plastic bags to be collected by a commercial recycling center.*
- Shredded paper is baled and sent to the recycling mill.
- Pulpers work to break down the paper into fibers—removing the ink and bonding in the process.
- Fibers are rolled and dried before being sent off to make new products.
- Because mixed-paper fibers of shredded paper is smaller than cardboard and other paper products, it’s typically recycled into lower-quality—but equally important—items, such as coffee filters, egg cartons, and paper towels.
*Note: Many commercial recycling centers mainly work with commercial businesses and clients. However, there are certain events held by local governments and communities that are open to the public. An office may also have a contract with a local shredding company, but they typically charge by the volume of paper to be shred. Check with your local recycling companies to see how they prefer shredded paper to be packaged. Some require a plastic bag while others prefer a recyclable envelope that’s easily sealed.
Erich Lawson is very passionate about the environment and is an advocate of effective recycling. He writes on a wide array of topics to inform readers on how modern recycling equipment can be used by industries to reduce monthly wastage bills and increase recycling revenue. You can learn more about environment saving techniques by visiting his blog Northern California Compactors, Inc blog.