Do you shred stacks of incriminating documents and throw them away wondering if there’s more you could do for the environment?
First of all, you may be wondering why you can’t just toss your shredded paper in a bag with the recycling. Paper is paper, right? Well … sort of. Most recycling centers won’t take it shredded because the small bits clog up the machinery and cause all kinds of bother. Recycling equipment that can handle it is expensive and drives up operating costs.
Then there’s the fact that paper can only be recycled a few times before the fibers are too short to use.
To shred or not to shred …
Before you shred, consider separating the glossy from matte (uncoated) paper. Whether or not coated paper is suitable for some of these uses is so hotly debated I’m still looking for a definitive answer. Almost everyone agrees glossy paper is recyclable as long as it doesn’t have a metallic or polymer coating.
But if you’d rather use it for some nefarious artistic purpose, like making ironic ashtrays, you’ll probably want to keep it intact. There are lots of things you can make with old magazines, for instance. I’ve categorized these uses for shredded paper according to whether you can use the glossy pages.
Stuff you can do with shredded glossy paper
Use it as packing material. Those styrofoam peanuts are bad for the environment. And they cling to every surface while you’re trying to clean them up. Meanwhile, you’re shredding junk mail and throwing it in the trash. So next time you send a package, skip the styrofoam and check your shredder bin.
Make Easter basket grass. Here are instructions that include how to dye the shredded paper if you’re so inclined.
Stuff gift bags with it instead of buying tissue. Will the person you’re giving a gift to expect gilded name brand tissue paper made from African blackwood? Probably not. And if they are, why are you giving them a present?
Throw it in the bottom of your trash can to help absorb liquids and reduce garbage odors.
Line the bottom of your cat’s litter box with it for the same reason. Especially if you’re not using self-clumping litter. Pour the litter on top and your cat will never know the difference.
Pranks! Like the one my sister’s coworkers pulled by filling her office with shredded documents.
What you can use shredded uncoated paper for
Paper mache. The Spruce Crafts has three recipes for paper mache paste and directions for how to use it. Paste will stick to uncoated paper too, but not as well.
Bedding for small pets, like hamsters or rabbits. It keeps them warm and dry just like any other bedding. And a rabbit won’t try to piece your credit card statement back together to snag your number.
Insulating material for outdoor plants. A layer of shredded paper also helps retain moisture and feeds the soil after it breaks down.
Composting. Paper is high in carbon and great for your compost. And apparently worms nosh on it like it’s tempura or something.
Compress with wax into bricks to make firestarters. This self-proclaimed cheap guy, Dave of Dave’s Ohio Barbecue, will demonstrate.
Make three-dimensional art by layering the paper with mod podge or matte medium around objects wrapped in plastic wrap. Mod podge and matte medium are permanent adhesives and require a strong solvent to remove, so make sure not to forget the plastic wrap.
Donate it to the animal shelter. Yeah, it might seem a little weird to show up somewhere with a garbage bag full of long, skinny pieces of paper. But at the shelter, they’ll use it under litter and line cages with it.
Make biodegradable seedling pots with shredded paper, water, and flour. Then you can plant the seedlings, pot and all.
Make your own paper. Here’s a fun term – paper slurry. That’s the blended mixture of paper bits and water that you pour onto a special screen and let dry. This is not only a perfect activity for kids, but homemade paper is way more fun to paint on than most because it’s so heavily textured.
Wrapping it up
Shredded paper is so versatile, you’re really only limited by your imagination. I bet there are enough ideas to write at least one book about it. If you have an active imagination (and we know you do), leave us a comment with an idea I haven’t listed.