In yesterday’s discussion about how to stop junk mail, icup mentioned using junk mail for mulch. Intrigued, I asked for more information. Here’s what he had to say.

I’m more interested in saving money than saving the environment, but when I see junk mail piling up every day, it makes me stop to think about the sheer amount of waste that junk mail creates. As a homeowner with multiple mulch beds, I also feel a little guilty about building up a nice big pile of mulch, because after all, that mulch used to be trees, and I know in my heart that cutting down trees is not necessarily a good thing.

One day when emptying my shredder, I got to thinking about wasted trees, and the thought occurred to me that shredded junk mail and mulch are basically the same thing: tiny bits of trees. Wouldn’t it be possible to save those bags of shredded junk mail for use instead of mulch?

It seemed like a good idea, but I consulted the internet just in case. I was worried about the ink. Last time I checked, you can’t buy mulch with tiny words and pictures printed on it with who knows what chemical.

Googling revealed concerns about heavy metals in some inks, but those occur mainly in the colorful, glossy ads I rarely receive (and wouldn’t shred anyway). Most people seemed to agree that the majority of inks are soy based because of economic reasons. The chemical make-up of non-glossy colored ink seems to be vigorously debated, but I think the risk of contamination is minimal. But because there’s some risk, I decided to only use shredded junk mail on beds that won’t be growing anything edible.

I also had concerns about plastics. My shredder has a credit card and CD slot, so I have to be careful about picking that stuff out. Also, some envelopes have a cellophane window. This isn’t really a contamination issue because of how tough plastic is to break down, but it is rather unsightly, like throwing trash on the ground.

With that in mind, I decided to use the following rules when using shredded junk mail as mulch:

  1. I only shred the non-glossy stuff, and try to avoid colored ink as much as possible. Since I’m shredding to avoid identity theft in the first place, and credit applications these days contain colored ink, I can’t stay 100% black and white, but I can accept that.
  2. I shred plastic items like credit cards and CDs separately and discard.
  3. I store the shredded paper in a place that is safe from fire and children. Fire because I believe shredded paper in bulk is a fire hazard, and children because shredded paper in bulk is a mess hazard.
  4. I only use the shreds where food is not grown, just to be safe. You can also use it in the bottom of flower pots inside the house to save potting soil.

So far the bulk of the paper has been used along the foundation of my house. I estimate I would have had to use 33-50% more bags of mulch if not for the paper. With the amount of mulch I need to put down this spring, that is a substantial savings. Also, I’m able to pile the mulch nice and high, so it looks better. From what I understand, the paper should be completely broken down in far less than a year.

I love this. It’s frugal and prevents identity theft at the same time! Mulch photo is not from icup, and is from the Flickr stream of mtneer_man.