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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?

Screenshot of Youtube video
Screenshot of Youtube video

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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