What to keep and what to shred?

May 26, 2021

With spring cleaning and the end of tax season, are you thinking about organizing and decluttering your personal finance documents? The first step is to decide what to toss and what to keep. Check out this article by Kevin Payne from Forbes Advisor online, “Financial Documents: What To Save And What You Can Throw Away.” Once you have a keep and toss pile, it may be tricky to find a balance between environmentally friendly paper recycling and keeping your personal information secure.

As a rule of thumb, experts recommend shredding anything that has information about you that is not publicly available. Do not throw away or recycle paper that shows any part of your social security number, credit card number, or utility or bank account information or history. These personal details are especially valuable to identity thieves. Place all non-sensitive papers straight into your recycling bin.

There are several ways to safely dispose of personal documents. The most environmentally friendly way is to remove and shred only the portions of the documents containing sensitive information. Simply place the remaining, non-sensitive parts of the documents into the recycling. Another option is to white out or run a sharpie over the personal data before recycling. If you decide to shred at home, shredded paper is a wonderful “brown matter” component to add to home compost piles because of its small size. Most printed paper is safe to use as mulch or in compost, except for colored and glossy paper which may contain toxic heavy metals.

Shred only documents with private information. Shredding shortens paper fibers. Recycling larger pieces of paper keeps the fibers longer, stronger, and ready to be made into new paper products. Ask your local recycling agency whether they accept shredded paper in their curbside bins, drop off locations, or large scale compost site. When choosing a privately owned document shredding company, select one that recycles its shredded paper.

Here’s a guide to help you decide what to recycled and what to shred.

Recycle This Paper:
Office paper and Post-it Notes
Paperback books
Greeting cards (plain cardstock only – no glitter, ribbons, buttons, etc.)
Magazines and catalogs
Brown paper bags
Toilet paper and paper towel tubes
Cardboard boxes
Gift, cereal, and shoe boxes (remove tissue and plastic liners)

Shred This Paper:
Pay stubs
Bank statements
ATM records and voided checks
Medical or prescription records
Tax forms
Legal and insurance documents
Anything with your Social Security number
Anything with your credit card account numbers
Copies of your birth certificate, passport, or driver’s license
Anything with your signature

Trash This Paper:
Pizza boxes
Fast food boxes, wrappers, and bags
Food-soiled paper
Tissues and paper towels

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