How can you reuse and recycle paper in your home?

Wildwood Wonder Lifestyle: Small Changes Make a Big Difference!

How can you reuse and recycle paper in your home? 


The three R's, reduce, reuse, recycle, are very close to the permaculture practices that we follow here on our homestead. The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature. If we can reintroduce an element back into the cycle of a system on our homestead or garden, that is ideal. Paper is a resource that we continually add back into our home, garden, and composting systems. 

Have you ever noticed how much paper you are in contact with throughout the week? Mail, newspapers, products we order or bring home, children's schoolwork (especially if you have elementary students), and other random pieces that find their way into our homes. Most people look at it and throw it straight into the garbage. But, as a gardener, homesteader, or permaculturist, we want to save this valuable resource! 


I have a copy paper box in my classroom labeled FEED THE WORMS. I ask my students to throw their papers in the box before the trash. Of course, my student's first reaction is, "Why? What does that have to do with worms?" I have grabbed their attention! 

"What is paper made out of?" I ask. 

"Wood," they respond.

"What happens when a tree dies and falls in the woods?"

"It rots." 

"What do think eats the rotten wood as it decomposes?"

"Bugs and worms!"

Then I tell them how I take their old papers home, shred them into smaller pieces, and put them in earthworm composting bins. But that is not the only way we reuse paper.


We tend to split up the different homesteading areas because there is no way one can do it all. My husband is the composting worm guy. He did all the research and cares for them. The rest of the family's job is to make sure all the suitable paper gets put in the shredding bins—we empty backpacks, junk mail, and any other documents that come through the door. About once a year, I clean out old files and documents we don't need anymore. At the end of the school year, I have a few boxes of student's old worksheets. Once people find out that you collect paper and paper shreddings, you will be offered both! Just make sure they know not to shred staples into the bin! Staples have to be removed. All that paper provides us with enough paper shavings for our small pet cages, worm bins, and mulch for the garden. 


We have two shredders at home, both we found on Facebook Market. We have a larger one that we use for larger quantities and more extended periods of shredding. One is mainly for the kids to use; it's smaller and sits in the kitchen area where they can easily shred a couple of sheets at a time. At first, my younger children were not keen on shredding their papers because they wanted to keep all of them. After I explained why we were shredding up their schoolwork, I found that they loved the idea of it having another purpose. The small shredder is also easy for them to detach the filled-up bin because they are responsible for cleaning out their pet cages and adding clean paper-shaving bedding back in. They take the soiled bedding to a specific composting area to ensure it is composted for an entire year before using it. If this is something you are interested in doing with your kiddos, I suggest using the clear plastic storage containers as a pet home/cage because they are lightweight and easy for kids to clean out. 

What if I don't have composting worms or pets? You can still add the paper into your compost bin or use it as a mulch in the garden! You can throw it into your compost bin, and it will be considered a brown element. 

Whole sheets of paper will not compost as fast, so if you don't have a shredder, at least rip it into strips. One year we had so many shreddings after collecting them from all the teachers that we had bags and bags of it. We used it in a friend's community garden as mulch in-between the rows and around the plants. It not only stopped the weeds but also broke down, adding nutrients to the soil. I have also used the same technique in my raised garden beds. 


Here are the guidelines for what pieces are suitable and what to avoid: 

  • NO oil-pastel artwork/written work. It is oil-based and will not break down properly, and will not be ideal for your plants. 
  • NO staples, the small shredded pieces of the staple will find their way in the soil and potentially harm earthworms and other insects. If you are using it for pet cages or in the compost where foraging birds might get them, you do not want them to ingest them. 
  • NO glossy paper, think cereal boxes with the waxy look. They will not break down like cardboard or paper. Just recycle those. 
  • NO tape. Take any tape off. 
  • No envelopes if they are heavily covered in sticky glue or have a plastic window. 
  • Yes, to your child's daily worksheets. 
  • Yes, to the nonglossy paper found in junk mail.
  • Yes, to the statements & extra pages that you don't need for all those accounts. 
  • Yes, to a newspaper.
  • Yes, to flyers or handouts. 
  • Yes, to any Wildwood Wonder flyers and handouts. The W.W. about cards, info cards, and business cards are made out of 100% recycled paper and are perfect for shredding and composting. 

I have found that a simple basket or large planter/gardening pot works best for holding our paper in between shredding. 

Now you will never look at paper products the same way again! 


Happy paper collecting, 


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