One of the easiest things for consumers and businesses to recycle is paper. Just about every municipality collects it, plus it breaks down quickly. Here in Rhode Island, our state recycling facility was recently upgraded to accept more paper within our recycling stream. The recycling process for paper has not changed, and, in fact, we can now throw more into our bins, including wrapping paper and tissue paper. However, there is a new process to recycle paper shreds. Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), the state recycling facility, used to request that paper shreds be stuffed into a paper bag and then placed in the paper recycling bin. Paper and cardboard used to be delivered to a separate part of the recycling plant to be sorted. Now, with the upgraded system, recyclables are delivered as one stream of material. “The first piece of equipment the recyclables travel through is a drum feeder,” explained Sarah Kite, Director of Recycling Services at RIRRC. “The purpose of the drum feeders is to mix, separate (from each other) and create a uniform depth of material to be sorted. Paper bags burst open during this process, spilling the shreds everywhere and coating the rest of the recyclables. At this point, the shreds are impossible to recapture and recycle.” RIRRC now requests that the way to prep paper shreds is to double-bag them in clear or fairly see-through plastic bags. Plastic bags are more resilient and tend to survive the trip through the drum feeder, not to mention the trip from a recycling bin to the recycling facility. Krystal Noiseux, Recycling Program Manager at RIRRC, added, “Bags of shreds need to be easily recognized and quickly plucked off the line by our sorters, before the rest of the recyclables start their journey through the system. It’s the one exception to the ‘no recyclables in plastic bags’ rule.” When prepped this way, RIRRC has found that paper shreds are able to survive the journey, be recognized as shreds in a bag by a sorter and get plucked off the sorting line. One thing that I was concerned with was using plastic bags for the paper shreds. On a recent tour of RIRRC, it was amazing how many plastic bags were spotted floating around the landfill. Large nets line its perimeter so the bags do not fly into the abutting wetlands and communities. But the cool thing is that the plastic bags are actually recycled by RIRRC at the end of the sorting line. Kite says that the recycled plastic film is sent to Trex, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of a high-performance wood alternative. Trex is known particularly for its outdoor decking and railing material, so it takes the plastic bags and recycles them to then sell to the public to be used in outdoor spaces. Of course, another alternative to recycling your paper shreds is tossing them in your compost bin or pile. But, remember to omit the colored and glossy paper because of the potential toxic inks that may be used in their printing process. Click here for more ways to repurpose unwanted paper.
Paper or Plastic: Recycling Your Sensitive Documents
The debate over how to best package shredded paper for recycling rages on as Rhode Island introduces its newest recycling protocol.