Pulping as a Recycling Alternative to Shredding

We live in an era of identity theft, and one way people can mess with you is by reading your garbage. I don’t mean the stuff you post online, but the pieces of paper that go into your trash recycling bin. Avoid risks of identity theft by thoroughly destroying your documents with personal information.

If you don’t have a shredder, or don’t like standing over the shredder for half an hour to cut up papers, pulping papers can be a reasonable alternative.  What’s pulping? Pulping is breaking paper down into a mixture of paper fibers and water. Pulp is a material that’s  used to make paper, artwork, sculptures, or other paper-like products.

To pulp papers, you need a bucket.  I used a 3-gallon bucket, but 5-gallon used buckets are cheaper.  Fill it 3/4 full of water, and then add your plain white paper.

Be careful about what kind of paper you pulp. I pulped some carbonless NCR paper, the kind used in checkbooks with duplicate reciepts, auto repair invoices, and other receipts, and got a little sick, probably because pulping released formaldehyde into the water.

The easy way to soak your papers is to put the papers in vertically:  capillary action will pull water upward into the stack. Let the bucket and paper sit for one day, then tear up the paper into smaller pieces. Try to submerge all the paper under the surface of the water.

If there’s too much paper in there, remove some. The paper needs to be able to swell up with water, expanding and loosening its fibers, and then disintegrate into pulp.

Submerge your paper, loosely packed, and wait for three days. Time allows the paper to self-disintegrate to some extent, as random vibrations from the ground and air agitate the water. The papers should be soft after three or four days; reach into the water and agitate it, and break up the paper into smaller bits. They should disintegrate pretty easily, and feel like soft, overcooked food.

Once the bits of paper are small and mixed up, your information is effectively gone.

Using the Pulp

Three ways I’ve come across are:

  • Making paper
  • Paper mache sculptures
  • “Bricks” to burn

I made “briquettes” or “turds” of pulp, dried them out, and intend to use them as starters to ignite charcoal, for outdoor grilling.


Pulping as a Recycling Alternative to Shredding: Paper Made Me Sick

I had a fairly large quantity of paper with personal information on it, and wanted to dispose of it. Initially, it was shredded, but that was taking too long, so I decided to try and pulp it.

I put it into a bucket of water. A few days later, it was still sheets of paper, but I could tear it up.  A couple days after that, it had started to pulp, so I formed them into balls for drying.

Since this first try seemed to work, I found another batch of papers, and put them into the bucket.  After three days, the paper was soaked, and I could start tearing it up. This time, the water smelled like rust.

I assumed that some paper clips had rusted.  But, after an hour of breathing this stuff in, and then sitting at the computer a bit, I started to feel sick. Nothing severe, but a bit of a nauseated feeling.

So I looked up what I thought might be the issue: dioxin poisoning. I knew white paper contained it.  Well, it didn’t seem to be dioxin, but some articles said that some paper products contain formaldehyde.

The smell of formaldehyde is like pickles. That’s what this water smelled like. Formaldehyde is used in carbonless NCR forms.  I had some of those in there. It’s also used to “toughen up” papers, and there were some tough sheets in there that didn’t disintegrate easily.

Not only that, but the symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning are irritation. Yes, I did feel some irritation in my eyes.  I treated it by washing my hands and arms, which had contacted the smelly water.

So, conclusion: pulping can work as an alternative to shredding, but do not pulp anything but plain white paper, and toss the carbonless forms into the shredder.