Privacy is a much bigger deal each and every year, and with the rise of privacy awareness the average consumer is much more likely to own the most basic of privacy-protecting office products – a shredder.

By the same token, we’re also much more likely than previous generations to be concerned about recycling.

And these two things – believe it or not – come into conflict with each other every time we shred a document. To understand why, you need to know a little bit about how paper is made.

When paper is being manufactured, long strands of wood pulp are turned into sheets of paper. The strands of wood pulp are effectively arranged in various directions, which gives the paper strength. It’s the same difference between having a ball of yarn and having a knitted sweater – the yarn is the same, but the arrangement in the sweater turns it into a useful piece of clothing.

Now the paper is cut to size. Some of those strands get cut, and you have a nice piece of copier paper. Then that piece of paper gets printed, mailed, and ends up in your hands.

When you recycle it, there are multiple possibilities.

If your paper hasn’t been recycled too many times, it has lots of good wood fiber strands left – so it can be mushed up and turned into new paper. This is obviously the preferable option. Trees may be a renewable resource, but their supply isn’t infinite. Recycling is always good.

If your paper has been recycled a bunch of times, those fibers have gotten progressively shorter as they’re rearranged and cut repeatedly. This means that they eventually won’t be recyclable anymore, and the paper – while still biodegradeable and compostable – will no longer be usable to make paper.

Now you’re thinking, “that’s all fine and good – but how does shredding enter the picture?”

The short answer is that shredding – especially modern cross-cut and diamond shredding – turns your paper into fibers that are too short to be usable for making new paper.

Put a little more simply, if you shred it, it can’t be recycled. And much of shredded paper that’s picked up for single-stream recycling winds up in the landfill.

If you’re interested in protecting the environment, this means a couple of things.

First, consider whether a given item needs to be shredded. The Pick ‘N Save ad doesn’t need to be shredded. That credit card offer probably should be – at least the part with your identifying information on it. The less you shred, the more your paper will be recyclable.

Second, consider whether or not you even need a paper copy of everything. Credit card companies, banks, and utility companies are offering online statements and PDF downloads that have all the info your paper copies do – and you probably already have a computer with more than enough space to store decades of those documents.

Third, consider whether there are any other uses for shredded paper you generate. If you’re a gardener – or you have friends that are – shredded paper is good for composting. Or if you have friends with small animals, they may be able to use shredded paper for bedding. There are a number of uses for it – get creative!

Like it or not, paper is still a part of all of our lives. But once we have a better understanding, it becomes easier to decisions that minimize its ecological impact. Our company’s commitment to recycling everything we possibly can is one of the many factors that drives us to educate people. We’ve got one planet to pass on to the next generation – let’s make it a good one!

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