Photo by Autumn Walter

Last November Mary Brennan, the recycling and solid waste coordinator for the University of Rhode Island, sent a mailing to inform faculty and students that shredded paper is no longer accepted as a recyclable on campus. This complies with the rules of the Materials Recycling facility in Johnston, Rhode Island where all of URI’s recycling is processed.

Many people, not just members of the URI community, aren’t aware that shredded paper cannot be recycled. When asking a handful of students on campus if they were knowledgeable of this new standard, all were unaware. Mary Brennan explained why paper shreds are unacceptable to recycle in an interview. She noted that when recyclables are sent to Johnston they are put on an assembly line, which can not process little pieces of paper due to them sticking to other materials. Paper shreds sticking to other materials causes contamination, which lowers the value. Recyclables need to be clean and free of contamination to be sold for a good price and reused.

Furthermore, shredded paper needs to be kept in plastic bags, which during this process can start fires. That being said, it is important to know that plastic bags cannot be recycled either. However, Stop & Shop and other facilities have a system of melting the plastic bags to recycle them. If these plastic bags are mixed with any other materials, the value drops because of contaminants.

If recycling shredded paper is necessary, it is recommended to use it as backyard composting. Having a compost pile at your house with raw materials mixed with paper shreds is acceptable because it will naturally decompose. Brennan, who has a compost pile at her house, said there are a variety of ways to have your own compost; she suggests chicken wire or a container.

The Recycling and Solid Waste Department finds it difficult to reach out to students about these recycling concerns due to a lack of connection. The department is not allowed to send out emails and letters are thought to be wasteful. However, if interested, they have a Facebook page called URI Recycling. This page is a good communication method to get across not only the importance of recycling on campus, but the proper way to do it.