1.5 million shredders in landfill

Cheap paper shredders aren't good products. They jam, they break and they're fiddly to use.

Shredders also send paper to landfill, because household recycling facilities can't process it. If you use a home shredder and put loose shredded paper in your household recycling bin, it becomes waste. If that bothers you, either don't shred it yourself or make sure you recycle your own (eg. use shredded paper for compost or chicken litter).

We launched Send and Shred to fix all of these problems. But we didn't realise the hidden problem of shredder Ewaste.

One of my Board members brought it up at a meeting. "How many broken shredders go to landfill each year?" Sandie asked.

Sandie manages Canberra's tip shop, The Green Shed. They accept unwanted goods from the public and salvage waste from the tip face, then resell it. Sandie knew there were a lot of broken shredders because they often end up at The Green Shed. They can't be resold and, unlike televisions and computers, there are no national recycling schemes. This means they end up in landfill. I set out to answer Sandie's question.

It's hard to find reliable data about particular types of waste in landfill. There are 1,168 landfills around the country, some of which are government-owned and some of which are private.

National Waste Reports are produced, but they're based on state data. Each state conducts different types of audits at different times. Some audits are based on direct measurement and others use estimates and industry factors. I couldn't find any that measured shredder Ewaste.

I decided to take a different approach and look at generation rates. Australia Post's Australian Lifestyle Survey conducted research for us in June 2017. We asked how many households owned a shredder. The answer was 47%. This was based on 234 responses from a statistically representative sample all around Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says there are around 9.24 million households in Australia. If 47% own a shredder, that makes 4.34 million shredders.

Guess what? Shredders break.

I couldn't find data on how long the 'average' shredder lasts. Most manufacturers put a 12 month or 2-year warranty on their appliance. Making the generous assumption that shredders last for three years, that means there are 1.45 million shredders breaking down each year. I rounded up the difference.

1.5 million shredders may not get sent to landfill each and every year. Some people may stockpile their broken shredder rather than throwing it out. This is known in the industry as 'above-ground landfill' because it only delays the inevitable. Some people may not replace their shredder at all. We'd certainly encourage that, but the aisle of OfficeWorks shredders indicates these devices sell well.

On the other hand, there may be more than 1.5 million in landfill each year. My figures don't include shredders for the 2.1 million small businesses around Australia.

Send and Shred recycles paper that would otherwise go to landfill and avoids shredder Ewaste. So next time your shredder breaks, have a good hard think before you replace it.

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