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Is Shredding Paper Bad for the Environment?

Shredding documents is very common in offices and households. We normally shred paper to remove certain private information that can fall into wrong hands or save space in our trash. But a lot of us don’t realize it creates a negative environmental impact. is shredding paper bad for the environment?

Yes, we do know that shredded paper waste can still be recycled, but do we know how can it be recycled better.

What is paper shredding?

Shredded Papers

Paper shredding is cutting sheets of paper into very small bits. These bits are then passed on to other processes that will turn them into pulp again.

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How is the process of recycling paper done?


The recycled paper is made to undergo the same process again. In the recycling process, the remaining pulp will be separated from unwanted materials like plastic bags, staples, and rubber bands.

Pieces of wood are also removed at this stage. After that, the pieces or fibers will be flattened into long sheets or flakes that can then be sent to paper mills again.

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Which is better recycled, shredded paper or whole paper?


It is best to recycle whole paper as it requires less energy. On the other hand, recycling paper shreds will require more energy and water. In addition, recycling papers with additional materials like staples and tags may contaminate the rest of the recycled paper sheets.

Slower is better when recycling paper. This will allow the fibers to be broken down slowly. Shredding is quicker but it destroys the ability of recycling paper in an acceptable amount of time or at all.

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How much energy is required to recycle paper?

Trash bins for compost, waste, and recycle
Nareeta Martin / Unplash

The whole process of recycling shredded paper requires more energy. Fibers often break apart and are stuck together when it is recycled using the method employed in offices and homes like passing the cut pieces through a rotating drum or feeding them into a cross-cut shredder.

This breaks up the fibers again which eventually leads to fine particles. To separate these fine particles into pulp again, more water and chemicals are needed.

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How much energy is consumed by a typical shredder?

A Box of Shredded Papers

According to a study done by the University of Connecticut, a typical shredder consumes around 200 watts of power. To prevent overheating and prolonging its life, you need to make sure it is not overloaded.

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Is paper biodegradable?

shredding paper for the environment

Yes, paper is made of cellulose fibers that are biodegradable. As such, it can easily decompose and turn into compost or feed for animals. However, this process requires a long time as the fibers need to be broken down first before they finally disintegrate completely.

Shredding is not bad for the environment when considering its many advantages. It saves space in your trash cans which will definitely help lessen landfill waste with whole sheets having more volume. Document shredding also helps prevent your data from falling into the wrong hands and prevent identity theft.

Shredding paper is a quick and easy way to dispose of unwanted bank statements, junk mail, credit card offers, old receipts, and other office paper without compromising your private information.

But you have to remember that shredding destroys the ability of the paper to be recycled. And whole sheets decompose much more easily.

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How long does it take for a paper to decompose?

Volunteers Cleaning Up Trash

A paper can take about a year to decompose on landfill sites. This means that recycling whole sheets is better as it takes less time to decompose compared to shredded paper.

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Advantages of recycling whole paper

  • Preserves the fibers for future use
  • Protects data
  • Does not require extra energy for recycling

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Disadvantages of recycling paper shreds

  • Contaminates other recycled papers
  • Requires more energy to recycle shredded papers compared to whole sheets.
  • Shredded paper takes a longer time to decompose on landfill sites compared to whole sheets.

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Tips on recycling paper

  • Recycle as much as you can, whole sheets are much better.
  • Buy recycled paper only if it is available. Do not settle for less just because it is cheaper.
  • If you need to shred, use a cross-cut shredder when disposing of sensitive documents and data to protect your privacy.
  • Recycle paper shreds if you cannot dispose of it in your regular trash can.

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How does paper shredding affect the environment

A Set of Shredded Papers

Shredding paper is bad for the environment because paper can be recycled and reused. The process of shredding uses a lot of energy, which contributes to global warming. Plus paper shredding reduces the recyclability of the paper.

Recycled paper can also be used as fuel, such as in power plants, wood heating furnaces, and electric boilers; this means that we do not have to use fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Shredding paper also leads to air pollution because of paper dust. When paper is shredded, it produces harmful dust that can harm people’s lungs and cause acid rain.

Paper mills, which manufacture paper products, are one of the top five industrial emitters of sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ) and carbon dioxide in the United States for large industries.

Recycling paper can also be used for making new paper products such as corrugated boxes and paper towels. Shredding is bad for the environment; if people don’t want to shred it they can recycle and reuse their papers instead of throwing them away.

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Paper shredding has an environmental impact although it also has some advantages in discarding confidential documents and as a space saver.

But postconsumer paper can be recycled up to seven or more times. Postconsumer is classified as paper you’ve used and wanted to recycle, so if you shred it before recycling, it’s pretty much useless because it reduces its recyclability.

Paper shredding also creates air pollution due to paper dust, wind picks up these tiny pieces of paper and blows them everywhere without control, making a bigger negative impact on the environment.

It is also estimated that it takes more time for shredded paper waste to decompose compared to whole sheets. The use of paper is increasing every day – we need to be very aware of how we dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way.

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