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Monday, 30 September 2013

The Paperless Office - Week 2

On to the next step...

Week 2.  Go through the filing cabinet and bookshelves and extract all those files you no longer need but still have because they contain confidential or sensitive information or have simply been kept for nostalgic reasons.  Set up your shredder and get shredding.

If you don't have a shredder, then you could try to borrow one from a friend, from work or perhaps  from a local share club such as or

Shredded paper can be recycled.  However, some councils don't accept shredded paper in the kerbside recycling collections.  This can be for a number of reasons:

  • The shredded paper can be problematic for MRFs (Materials Recovery Facilities).  The machinery is designed to recognise and sort different types of paper and card.  But small scraps and shredded paper can be hard to distinguish.  Shredded paper can also jam up the machinery.
  • Shredded paper can be easily wind blown and therefore cause litter in the streets.
  • Each time paper is recycled the fibres get shorter and eventually become too short to knit together.  Shredding paper is said to shorten the fibres which means it can only make lower grade paper products.

Other councils can accept small amounts.  It is helpful to wrap your shredded paper in a piece of newspaper to stop it blowing away.  Small quantities of shredded paper can be sealed inside envelopes. Wrapping the paper in plastic bags is far from ideal as the plastic bags need to be split open and again this can cause litter.

When I was out with my local collection team last year, we came across a back bin bag, which we could see had some shredded paper coming out of the top.  However, it was impossible to tell whether it was entirely full of shredded paper or not, without splitting it open in the street.  Even though my local council do accept shredded paper, the policy is not to open a black sack in the street because of the likelihood of causing litter, as shredded paper and other materials are likely to blow away.  The team seemed reluctant, but they had limited time, and had to decide to leave it behind for the landfill collection.  I asked what could have been done.  They suggested putting the shredded paper directly into the recycling boxes with a lid, or labelling the bag.

What to shred.
Unless your document is a confidential report, you don't need to shred the whole thing.  Separating and shredding just the bits that are confidential will save time and effort.  It is also easier to manage paper that hasn't been shredded.

What if you can't recycle your shredded paper?
Shredded paper is good for the compost.  That's where I usually put my regular small amounts.
It can also be used for animal bedding.  There are more ways to use your shredded paper on the My Zero Waste Blog.

From 101 Ways to Live Cleaner and Greener for Free

Onto the task...

I've pulled out a pile of old files, including

  • Minutes of Parish Council Meetings. - these don't need shredding as they are public documents, so they are going straight in the recycling bin as they are.
  • Customer's data from past studies and reports.  I've shredded these as I can't judge whether the information is still sensitive.
  • Very old bank statements.  I've cut off the personal information from the top and shredded it.  The rest went into the recycling unshredded.
  • Old company accounts.  HMRC recommend you keep accounts information for a minimum of six years.  Some information, such as dividend vouchers and bank interest certificates have to be kept for longer.  Documents like public liability insurance certificates have to be kept much longer and it can be up to 40 years in some cases.  I've decided to keep my company accounts for six years, which means I'll be recycling anything that relates to years prior to 2007.  Most of this will be shredded.
  • Various extracts from novels and short stories from the days when I used to edit on paper. These days I rarely need to print anything in order to edit it, as the screen quality is good enough to make it easy on the eye and editing on screen gives an array of useful editing tools, such as the ability to track changes, highlight text, add comments etc.  None of this needs to be shredded, so it is going straight in the recycling box.
  • Presentations and course notes from my M.A. and various other writing courses - interesting, but I have no need to keep them!  Straight into the recycling box too.

The total weight of this paper is 12,966g, so far.  And there's more to go.

I have minimised what actually needs to be shredded, in order to preserve as much value from my paper as possible.  I've gained lots of shelf space and have a pile of files to put away for future use or give to my daughters and their friends for their school work.

In two weeks I've recycled just over 21 kilos of paper. That means I'm more than a third of my way to my target of one tree!

By the way, next week's task will be a lot easier :)

1 comment:

Ruby said...

Thanks for this post, Anna. I’m quite meticulous when it comes to shredding documents. They have to be several years older and are no longer necessary so that I don’t have to regret it after deciding to get rid of them.