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Ask a Recycler: Is It Safe to Recycle Sensitive Documents?

What really happens to bills, credit card statements and other documents you may toss into your recycling bin?

The sorting line at Waste Management's Davis Street recycling facility. Photo credit: Waste Management of Alameda County.
The sorting line at Waste Management's Davis Street recycling facility. Photo credit: Waste Management of Alameda County.

By Rebecca Jewell, Recycling Program Manager, Waste Management of Alameda County

Question: Should I be concerned about sensitive documents in my recycling?

The processing facility handling residential and commercial recycling is highly automated. The system separates cardboard from paper from bottles and cans by their physical attributes (flat, light, dense, small, large, magnetic, etc.). This limits the number of people needed to accurately sort this material.

The conveyor belts speed by at the rate of 50 feet per hour, human sorters do not have an opportunity to discover possibly valuable/confidential information. 

The facility is closely monitored to ensure safety for the employees and the material; cameras are in place throughout the plant to ensure that sorters are focused on pulling out contamination.

Once paper is sorted, it is sent in bales to facilities overseas where manufacturers use it to make new paper products and packaging.

We take the trust that our customers put in us seriously, on all fronts, including their protecting their information.

If customers are concerned about scavengers going through their recycling at the curb, I would encourage them not to shred their sensitive documents, but rather to use them to wrap up food scraps and put them into the green bin for composting.

Using credit card and bank statements to wrap up last night’s table scraps and other food scrap items encourages folks to recycle food scraps while avoiding the need for “compostable” plastic bags. Scavengers are not going through the green bins, especially when customers are using them to recycle leaves and grass as well as food scraps.

Customers can also put shredded paper into the green bin for composting. Paper in any form can help keep the green bin cleaner to avoid flies and smells.

Rebecca Jewell is happy to answer Patch readers' questions about recycling. You may email questions to her directly at rjewell@wm.com or via Patch at dixie.jordan@patch.com.

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Marvin H January 06, 2014 at 11:51 AM
Shred your sensitive documents using a confetti shredder, and if you really want to be secure fill the shredder bin with water to wet down the confetti. Letting your sensitive documents out of your house or business in any other form is risky.
Marvin H January 06, 2014 at 11:59 AM
And you can put your shredded paper in a paper bag secured with a staple and put it in your blue recycle bin.
frank January 06, 2014 at 09:40 PM
Really how can anyone connected with ACI give such terrible advice and Patch actually prints it. People go through your recycling before it is picked up by ACI.
Allison Martin January 07, 2014 at 06:10 PM
Wrap your compost with your sensitive mail? Who the heck is going to do that? Ridiculous.

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