The US Federal Trade Commission estimates that there are 9 million cases of identity theft per year in the USA and recommends that individuals defend themselves by shredding financial documents before disposal.   Whipped up into worrying about important papers falling into the wrong hands,  we  got caught up in the mad rush to shred about 10 years ago.

...A pile of shredded paper (this particular paper used to be money) as art with creator Thomas-McDonell

I also suspect that I was particularly drawn to this device because it reminded me of one of my favorite kitchen items – our pasta maker.

So the shredder sat on my office floor , awaiting its chance to noisily chew up top secret paper and making one crazy confetti mess whenever its attractive black mesh basket had to be emptied.

It had always been a little cranky.  I had to position the heavy shredder top just so and then wiggle it to coax it to slice all of our super secret files into paper spaghetti.

..Composting my novel.

Its downfall came when I attended a workshop of sheet composting.  One of the materials suggested for the carbon portion of the compost was shredded paper.  My mind raced to the teetering stack of paper left over from obsolete projects.  I use the back sides of all these sheets, but I never catch up with myself.  So I was thrilled to think I had discovered the perfect reuse for this material.

I set to work turning the not-quite-punchy-enough ending of a middle grade novel into something profoundly useful and spent several hours generating bags of this fluffy, promising product.

Then, the shredder choked on me.  No matter how many different ways I tried to nudge her around on her basket – she would not shred.

...This shredder can not be fixed.

Doug was called in to provide resuscitation.  He revived the motor, but the blades would not engage.  Poor Shredder whined a pitiful, high-pitched din but her blades could not be made to engage.  Eventually we have had to accept our shredder’s passing. I probably overheated it by not pausing enough.

Here are some tips for shredder health that I should have read earlier. 

Now that its gone, I don’t plan to buy another shredder.  I have learned that shredded paper is a triple environmental threat.

1.      Paper is made of fibers, and shredding chops them into short pieces. This is bad because the longer the paper fiber, the higher grade paper.  Short fibers make low-grade paper and can be remade into new paper less times.

2.      Shredded paper often ends up being discarded with contaminants by machines that clean paper for recycling.

3.      Most paper mills that use recycled paper sort used paper by quality, and it’s not practical to sort shredded paper strips.

Also, I read that in some cases, shredded documents can be put back together.  The noodles from the same document are often found close to each other in a confetti pile.  So shredding may not be as safe as it looks.  I think I can be a little more careful.  The actual identity data can be snipped off and bagged to start our next fire.

Even better —  if you are interested in vermiculture, I’m told that worms thrive on  paper, and reduce all documents well beyond recovery.  I sense a worm farm in my future.

How do you deal with your top-secret documents?

7 replies

  1. Interesting topic. I’ve been looking at chipper-shredders for outdoor use because I’ve learned that shredded newspapers can be used for compost, and I’m always looking for additional compost materials, in addition to leaves and grass. Seems like that might be a better use of the black-and-white sections of our newspapers than the so-called recycling.

    Oh yeah, we have a small, slightly cantankerous shredder which we use to shred financial, personal papers. But I admit, where we live it’s not a big thing to worry about.

    • Hi Dennis,
      I haven’t actually tried this yet, but I’m going to see if there are some shredded paper producing institutions — maybe my bank — that would let me have shredded paper.
      But I’m not going to shred my own for compost any more.
      I would strongly suggest that you don’t ask your cantankerous office shredder to take on the outdoor job.
      Cantankerous is a good descriptor. I always though of mine as more moody and hesitant, but that’s history now.

  2. I shred important papers too or burn them but since we don’t have recycling in our village and taking them to somewhere that does would negate any positive effects.

    I think I need to take up the issue of recycling with our mayor at some stage.

    • Hi Joanna,
      Yes, for those of us who have burning in our lives, that is a very secure form of disposal.
      I’ll be interested to hear how your attempt to introduce recycling to your village goes.

  3. Shredded paper makes great bedding for my rabbits. It is much more clean then weed enriched hay for nest boxes. It is easy to clean the boxes, and it costs nothing if you ask around at some businesses. I just provide them some bags to put it in, and they are happy to save it for me. After use as bedding it goes into either the compost bin or dug into my raised beds. You can see some of mybaby rabbits in paper hay here.

    • Hi Jim,
      That makes so much sense. That gives shredded paper not one but two more lives on its way back to the good earth.
      Thanks so much for sharing your system.
      I just spent a little time wandering through your blog, There are a lot of good ideas in there!
      After reading a handful of great ways to find food in the wild, I read heading for the post “Time to Eat Some Crow,” and took it literally. That gave me a shudder because I really love to hear crows. A flock lived in the tree line along my grandfathers corn/bean field and their calls filled my childhood on their farm. Now whenever I hear them, they remind me of my grandfather and reconnecting me to him.
      So I was glad to see that you were using the term metaphorically.
      Incidentally, my grandfather would have really loved your blog too.

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