Can shredded paper be recycled?

Not necessarily, it depends on how the paper has been shredded. Some domestic shredders can make the fibres too weak for recycling.

If you're recycling paper you've shredded yourself (rather than using a shredding company), check with your local council whether you can put it in your paper recycling bin.

Some local councils won't accept shredded paper as the small fibres can jam recycling machinery, or are easily blown away, creating litter. Some authorities will allow you to put shredded paper in your green garden waste bin for composting.

At Russell Richardson we recycle 100% of the paper we shred, no matter what type of business it's come from or whether it's a regular or one-off service.

What happens to the paper after shredding?

After destroying your documents safely and securely, we put the shredded paper into our baler, compress it into bales and then send it to recycling facilities not far from our Sheffield site in Chesterfield and Disley. There, the bales are recycled into soft tissue products, such as toilet paper and paper hand towels.

See our step-by-step illustrated guide to how paper is recycled here.

Is all paper recyclable?

No. Any paper that's coated in a material like wax, plastic or foil (such as metallic wrapping paper or some Christmas cards) can't be recycled. This is why it's important to check the items you're placing in the recycling bin, whether it's waste from your household or your business.

If you're recycling at home, don't place in your recycling bin any paper that has:

  • food stains or food waste on it (such as takeaway cartons or used paper towels)
  • paint on it (such as kids' paintings)

Below is a list of some of the common types of paper you can recycle:

  • Brown parcel paper
  • Cardboard
  • Catalogues
  • Christmas cards without embellishments such as glitter or foil
  • Photocopier paper
  • Directories
  • Envelopes (with or without windows)
  • Leaflets
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers and supplements

At Russell Richardson, we mostly shred printed documents on behalf of businesses, so we can usually absorb any extraneous materials due to the sheer volume of paper. This is why we don't tend to ask our customers to check or sort their documents before we collect them.

To find out more, read the section below What different types of paper can be recycled?

What does paper get recycled into?

This depends on the quality of the paper. The higher the quality of the paper and the less it's been recycled, the better the quality of product it can be recycled into.

Shredded paper isn't usually recycled into high-quality paper products (such as printer paper) because the paper fibres are too short. Instead, it's recycled into hygiene products such as toilet paper, hand towels and tissues.

Recycled paper can be transformed into a range of new paper products, including:

  • brown parcel paper
  • cardboard
  • Christmas or birthday cards and wrapping paper
  • egg boxes
  • napkins and kitchen roll
  • paper bags
  • paper plates and food cartons
  • printer and photocopier paper

Some of the more unusual items that can be made from recycled paper include1:

  • building insulation
  • cat litter
  • furniture
  • handbags
  • vases
  • water bottles

How many times can paper be recycled?

This depends on the quality of the paper. High-quality paper (such as office paper) has long fibres which shorten every time the paper goes through the recycling process. On average, office paper can be recycled into new office paper around five to seven times.

Paper becomes less recyclable each time it's reused, as its fibres become shorter and shorter. Eventually, the fibres are so short that the paper can no longer be used as standard paper again.

After this point, the pulp can be used to make paper products whose quality doesn't need to be as high, such as tissues, newspaper or egg boxes2.

Where can I take paper to be recycled?

Most UK councils offer roadside paper recycling collections, and you can put paper and card in these to be recycled.

You can also find paper banks in supermarket car parks or at retail parks.

If you have more paper or cardboard waste than your recycling bin can accommodate, you can take it to a local recycling centre. Find your nearest paper recycling centre here.

If you want to shred documents that contain personal or business information, you should treat them as confidential waste and shred them before recycling.

You can find out more about shredding confidential business waste here and home business and domestic paper shredding here.

What different types of paper can be recycled?

Below we take a look at what common paper products can and can't be recycled:

Brown paper

Brown paper bags


Christmas cards

Coloured paper

Crumpled paper

FSC paper

Greaseproof paper

Inked paper

Laminated paper

Painted paper

Printer paper

Shiny paper

Stapled paper

Thermal paper

Tissue paper

Wax paper

Wet paper

Wrapping paper

Is wrapping paper recyclable?

Very few types of wrapping paper can be recycled. Wrapping paper that can't be recycled includes:

  • metallic wrapping paper
  • wrapping paper with glitter or a textured finish
  • wrapping paper with lots of Sellotape, ribbons or bows

If you're not sure whether your wrapping paper is made of paper, the best way to test it is to scrunch it up - if it stays scrunched up then it's likely to be paper. If it's paper and it doesn't have any glitter or embellishments, it can probably be recycled.

Is cardboard recyclable?

Yes, most types of cardboard can be recycled. This includes:

  • cardboard boxes
  • cardboard cartons
  • cardboard tubes (such as kitchen roll inners)
  • paperboard

Any cardboard has food stains on it - such as pizza boxes, food trays or takeaway cartons' can't be recycled.

Most types of cardboard waste can be shredded into chips or perforated (cut into long strips) and used for packaging. The packaging can then be reused or recycled again.

Is coloured paper recyclable?

Most coloured paper - other than very dark or brightly coloured paper can be recycled. An easy way to check if a piece of coloured paper can be recycled is to rip it - if the paper is white in the middle, you can recycle it.

Can you recycle tissue paper?

No. Tissue paper is usually made from already recycled paper so its fibres are too small to be recycled again. For this reason, you should put it in your general waste bin instead.

The same applies to products such as hand towels, tissues, kitchen roll and toilet roll.

Is greaseproof paper recyclable?

No. Greaseproof paper (also known as parchment paper or freezer paper) is coated with silicone, which means it can't be recycled with paper. Used greaseproof paper often absorbs food waste, which also stops it from being recycled.

Is brown paper recyclable?

Yes. You can recycle brown paper (also known as kraft paper) in your kerbside paper bin or at a recycling centre.

Are brown paper bags recyclable?

Yes, provided the brown paper bags aren't contaminated with food waste, they can go in your paper recycling bin. Some paper shopping bags have plastic or textile handles so make sure you remove these first before recycling them.

If a shopping bag has a glossy coating, this is likely to be made from plastic, which means the bag won't be recyclable.

Can thermal paper be recycled?

Thermal paper is the paper used in credit and debit card machines, cash registers and similar devices. It can be recycled in the same way as you would office paper. However, if you have paper with customers card details on it, you must shred it before recycling.

Some thermal paper is coated in a chemical known as BPA, which can't be recycled. If you run a business and want to improve your recycling, choose BPA-free thermal paper, which you can recycle.

If you're not sure, check with your local recycling centre or your shredding services company.

Is wax paper recyclable?

No, as the wax coating is water-resistant, it prevents the paper from being broken down during the recycling process.

Can paper with paint on it be recycled?

No, paper with paint on it can't be recycled. The same goes for other kids' art supplies such as:

  • crayons
  • glitter
  • large globs of glue
  • stickers
  • foam

These are all contaminants.

Even if your children use a water-based paint, the paper still can't be recycled. This is because it's not the paint itself that makes the paper unrecyclable but the fact that the paper has been wet. Once paper or cardboard has been wet, the paper fibres are damaged and can't be recycled.

Can crumpled paper be recycled?

Yes, you can recycle crumpled paper with regular paper recycling.

Can paper with ink be recycled?

Yes, as the ink is removed during the recycling process. The paper pulp is put into a chemical solution and blasted with air bubbles. The ink sticks to these bubbles and rises to the top of the solution. It's then skimmed off.

You can find out more about the paper recycling process here.

Can wet paper be recycled?

Wet paper or cardboard breaks down rapidly, which means the fibres become shorter and are harder to recycle. Wet paper and cardboard can stick to recycling machinery and clog it up.

Can you recycle printer paper?

Yes, printer paper is recyclable and is often turned into new printer paper.

Can you recycle shiny paper?

You can recycle shiny paper such as glossy magazines, flyers, leaflets and catalogues in most kerbside collections.

However, you can't recycle:

  • shiny Christmas or birthday wrapping paper
  • shiny paper such as fax paper - this contains certain chemicals and dyes that can't be removed during the recycling process
  • shiny paper used in credit card terminals, unless it's BPA-free thermal paper

Is FSC paper recyclable?

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council, a not-for-profit alliance that certifies whether paper products are made from wood from sustainably managed forests. The FSC covers a wide range of products, from toilet paper to trainers.

As FSC paper can be anything from tissues to high-quality printer paper, not all FSC paper is recyclable. It's the product itself, rather than whether it's FSC certified, which determines whether it can be recycled.

Can Christmas cards go in paper recycling?

Plain Christmas cards without any glitter, glue, foil or embellishments can go in the paper recycling bin. Any cards with embellishments need to go in the regular waste bin.

Can I recycle paper with staples on it?

Yes. Staples are removed during the recycling process so paper with staples on it can go in the recycling bin. Staples can also be shredded with paper in industrial shredders so there's no need to remove them before sending your paper for shredding.

Can laminated paper be recycled?

Laminated paper is difficult to recycle as the paper can't be separated from the laminated plastic. If laminated paper does end up at a paper recycling mill, it can contaminate the rest of the recycled paper.

According to a report by the UK's Confederation of Paper Industries, paper mills would prefer not to receive plastic or metallised laminated board due to the extra expense they incur when handling and recycling it3.

How does recycling paper help the environment?

  • Recycled paper uses 70% less energy than making it from raw materials.
  • Recycled paper is thought to produce 73% less air pollution than paper made from raw materials.
  • It takes around 24 trees to make one tonne of newspaper.

You can help reduce your personal, or your company's, carbon footprint by recycling paper. The fewer trees that are cut down to make paper, the more trees there are to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Paper recycling also uses less energy than making paper out of wood, which further reduces your carbon footprint4.

What percentage of paper is recycled?

According to the Government, the UK recycled 79.0% of its paper and cardboard in 20175.

How much energy is saved by recycling paper?

Recycling just one tonne of paper saves enough energy to power a home for nine months. It would also save 7,000 gallons of water6.

How many trees are saved by recycling paper?

This depends on what type of paper the trees are being made into. It would take around 24 trees to make a tonne of printing paper. It takes roughly 12 trees to make a tonne of lower-quality paper such as newsprint7.

Paper shredding and recycling with Russell Richardson

Where does the paper go once Russell Richardson has shredded it?

At Russell Richardson, we transport our shredded paper to paper mills less than 35 miles from our Sheffield shredding plant. There, the paper is recycled into hygiene products.

What is the recycled paper used for?

Once recycled, our shredded paper makes hygiene products such as:

  • hand towels
  • toilet rolls
  • hygiene rolls

To find out more about the recycled paper products your shredded waste could help to make, click here.

Is there any type of paper you can shred but not recycle?

We can shred any paper that contains confidential information or branding. However, if it's coated and unable to be recycled into paper products, we send it to a waste-to-energy plant.

You can find out more about what's classed as confidential waste and how you should dispose of it here.

Will I get proof that you've recycled my shredded paper?

After we've shredded your waste paper safely and securely, we immediately compress it into bales and send it for recycling. We then send you a certificate of destruction, which confirms we've fully destroyed and recycled your documents.

We can also provide environmental certificates that tell you how much your waste paper has been recycled over a period of time.

How much paper does Russell Richardson recycle?

We recycle 100% of the paper we shred, which amounts to over 1,000 tonnes per month.

In the UK more widely, it was estimated in October 2018 that paper mills used 282 kilotonnes of recovered paper last year.


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