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Monday Q&A | Recycling vs. Shredding and Rising Gas Prices

Every Monday, I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

I’ve been pondering this for some time and I can’t find an answer so maybe you know…
I produce very little trash. I have once a month garbage collection only $6.00/ month that includes a recycle pick up twice a month. I shred junk mail etc to create browns for my compost. (I don’t have any trees to produce leaves.)Here’s the question….
Is it better to put paper in the recycle bin or recycle it myself by making compost? I know I can’t recycle shredded paper.


In your case, I think that shredding is a better option. If you don’t have enough browns, your compost won’t work very well, so if you didn’t shred your paper, you wouldn’t be able to compost.

I know from my own experience that composting keeps an incredible amount of food scraps out of our trash, and I’m sure the same is true for you. So, shred your junk mail and keep on composting!

I do have plenty of leaves to provide browns for my compost bins (we have 7-8 oak trees in our yard alone!), but I do still shred some papers.

I shred paper with personal information on it, but I also shred small pieces of paper that will likely not manage to get recycled (strips of paper left from crafting, small to-do lists, parchment paper scraps from cutting round pizza shapes). Small pieces of paper can cause problems with recycling equipment, so in those cases, it’s much more responsible to shred them and then compost them.

Overall, though, I’m not sure which option is better. To my untrained mind, it seems like composting has to be at least as good as recycling. Recycling does reuse resources, but it also uses resources (the truck has to come pick it up, and the recycling plant uses a significant amount of energy and resources).

Composting, though? That uses no oil or gas, and the end product is used to enrich the soil and in my case, to grow food. So, I really can’t imagine that composting paper is an irresponsible thing to do.

(p.s. most paper receipts are printed on thermal paper, which contains BPA. So, they should not be recycled or composted. My best solution is to refuse the printing of them whenever possible, like at the gas station or at the bank. And I do shred and compost any receipts I receive that are not printed on thermal paper.)

(p.p.s. Composting newbies, you can find all of my past compost posts in the composting category, including instructions about how to make your own super-cheap compost bin.)

I’m sure you have heard how gas prices are expected to increase in the upcoming year. Seems as though it will be quite possible for gas prices to increase to $4 or maybe $5/gallon. As you know if this happens it affects everything… driving, food, utilities, etc. When you read this information do you do and/or change anything in order to plan for the future increased prices on goods and services?


I saw that on the news the other day while I was at the gym. Very depressing.

But, in the face of news like this, I remember that I have mad frugal skills, and that makes me feel better.

You can’t entirely avoid price increases with frugality, but you can definitely experience less distress than people who are spendthrifts. Even if everyone’s budget costs go up 25%, the people with lower budgets are in better shape. A 25% increase in a $200 grocery budget is very different than a 25% increase in a $500 grocery budget.

For example, if you already batch your errands, carpool, and avoid unnecessary driving, your gas budget will not go up as many dollars as the gas budget of someone who drives a gas guzzles like there’s no tomorrow.

And assuming a 20% rise in food prices, if you eat the brown rice that comes in a box for $1-2/pound, you’ll be in better shape than the person that eats boxed rice mixes that cost far more per pound.

Also, if you work at buying local when possible, the rise in gas prices won’t be quite as noticeable. The beef from the farm near my house won’t be affected like the beef that has to travel halfway across the country.

And the stuff at my Goodwill store won’t be affected like the merchandise at traditional stores, which comes from the Phillipines and China and who knows where else.

Anyhow, my advice in the face of $5/gallon gas is the same as my advice under other circumstances…advice like:

Basically, I think that simple, frugal living habits will help to get you through hard economic times with as little financial distress as possible. Yay frugality!

Today’s 365 post: Hey Elizabeth! This is for you.

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Sunday 13th of March 2011

The paper doesn't add a lot to the compost (in terms of nutrients), not as much as leaves would. It's not totally inert but I wouldn't want piles and piles in my compost bin. Shredded paper isn't terribly helpful for the recycled paper industry either. The fibers in the shredded paper are so short that it's difficult for them to bind with other paper fibers to make new paper. Myself, I put as much of my paper out curbside as I can, and shred the really sensitive stuff for my compost pile or use it for starter in the fireplace.


Tuesday 1st of March 2011

I come from the Philippines and I am just wondering what items from traditional stores comes from the Philippines. Most of the things being sold here almost come from China!


Tuesday 1st of March 2011

If it's a choice between composting and recycling, I'd compost everytime.

I agree with the other previous comments, and also once you've recycled your (shredded) paper, what happens to it? It may get downcycled into a single use product (eg TP) or recycled into something that could be used again. But how many newspapers, books, magazines, pieces of stationery actually make it back into a recycling plant? Chances are 'your' recycled paper product will end up in landfill. The plus side, and it is a big plus, is that at least by recycling once you've saved some trees from being made into virgin paper, but the big minus is that recycling takes a lot of energy, plus the transportation costs WilliamB mentioned.

Composting, on the other hand, is free and gives you an end product that you can use with minimal emissions in the process of making it! Maybe use it to grow a few tubs of lettuces or cut and come again salad leaves (is that what you call them in the States? I'm not sure?) Salad is expensive because it's highly perishable. Growing your own saves you money, the transportation in refrigerated lorries, refrigeration in the shop and is fresher and therefore tastier and more nutritious. Feed outer/wilted leaves to your pet rabbit or compost straight and close the loop!

If you burn the paper, wood ash can also be added to the compost heap. (Not coal ash though- that doesn't do the garden any good.)

Just for the record, I'm not saying don't recycle at all! And remember to buy recycled products where possible, otherwise there's no market for the used paper, card etc. Obvious, but easy to forget when you're shopping.

Incidentally, re: brown matter in compost. Leaves actually decompose in a different way to other green waste (through fungi and bacteria rather than worm action) so although you can (as you know!) add them to compost heaps, they're better (more efficiently) composted separately, to create leaf mould. If you have the space, put them in a wire bin (chicken wire and 4 posts) or bin bags with holes in with a sprinkle of water and just leave. Use the resulting leaf mould as a soil improver, in much the same way as compost, although it doesn't have the same nutrient levels.

And concerning fuel prices, I've nothing else to add to previous suggestions, other than to say the fact petrol (gas) is over $9/gallon in the UK!


Monday 28th of February 2011

I put my sensitive stuff in the woodstove as starter paper all the time.


Monday 28th of February 2011

I may sound like a dolt here, but can you just toss it in the fireplace if you don't compost? I'm sure the glossy stuff and the little plastic windows shouldn't be burned, but the bilsl and sensitive stuff; is there a problem with that? I ask, because I never hear about anyone doing this. My dad does it all the time, but I'm not sure if he should.

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