Earlier this week, I decamped from Brooklyn to spend a little QT with my parents in Tacoma, Wash., much like I do every holiday season. So far, I’ve spent a fair amount of time catching up with my family (aka bickering with my younger brother), sleeping in a bit (what a treat!), watching trash TV (so many channels!), and helping my mother find tree-appropriate LED holiday lights (thanks, Martha Stewart!) I’ve also spent a whole lot of time shredding. Yep, shredding.

Here’s the thing: While helping my mom straighten out the rather cluttered dining room, she brought to my attention a large cardboard box filled to the brim with shred-worthy documents of all sorts … receipts, invoices, insurance, bank, and utility statements, and about 500 Nordstrom charge card bills dating back at least 15 years. “Want to shred the stuff in the box?” she asked probably thinking that I’d say hell no, absolutely not.

Well, being the thoughtful and industrious son that I am, I said yes. And since then, I’ve been pretty much been plopped down in the living room, shredding my winter vacation away (where's that coffee table with a built-in shredder when I need it!?)

Honestly, I don’t mind. I’m finding it rather cathartic, and I like having a mission. Even if that mission involves sitting in my parents’ living room watching “Wife Swap “and feeding cell phone bills from 2004 into the mouth of a shredder (yes, my parents’ shredder lives in the living room).

Although the city of Tacoma accepts shredded paper through its curbside recycling program (the shredded paper must be placed within a paper bag), it occurred to me that many other municipal curbside programs don’t allow shredded paper because it’s impossible to sort, can be filled with non-recyclable contaminants, and is considered as a low-quality recyclable commodity. So what to do if you have stacks of paperwork containing sensitive info that you want to shred but can’t add to your recycling bin?

First off, I’d consider switching over to paperless billing to keep household paper waste in check. Next, I’d inquire with the local solid waste department to see what rules apply to the recycling of shredded paper. If you can’t place it in your recycling bin, you may be able to unload it in person at a recycling center. Or they may just tell you to toss it in the trash.

And then there are a few other ways to recycle and reuse household shredded paper (some of them very appropriate for this time of year) to consider if you too are spending the holidays at your parents’ house, shredding their old credit card statements while watching trash TV:

• Packing material (for all those Christmas returns!)

• Bedding material for small animals. (If you don't have a pet, you may be able to donate it to a local pet store.).

• Compost heap additive

• Backyard chicken coop nesting material

• Worm bin liner

• Kitty litter box odor controller

• Christmas ornament protector

• Effigy, scarecrow or piñata filler

• Fire starter (make a shredded paper fire log!)

Know of another way to reuse shredded paper? Please tell me about them in the comments section. I gotta run now … the shredder awaits. 

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

To shred or not to shred?
Before going on an end-of-year document-shredding spree, check to see if shredded paper is accepted by your local curbside pickup program and consider other way