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Is It Safe to Put Sensitive Documents in Albany Recycling Bins?

What really happens to bills, credit card statements and other documents that Albany residents may toss into their recycling bins?

The sorting line at Waste Management's Davis Street recycling facility. Photo credit: Waste Management of Alameda County.
The sorting line at Waste Management's Davis Street recycling facility. Photo credit: Waste Management of Alameda County.

By Rebecca Jewell, Recycling Program Manager, Waste Management of Alameda County

Question: Should I be concerned about sensitive documents in my recycling?

The processing facility handling residential and commercial recycling is highly automated. The system separates cardboard from paper from bottles and cans by their physical attributes (flat, light, dense, small, large, magnetic, etc.). This limits the number of people needed to accurately sort this material.

The conveyor belts speed by at the rate of 50 feet per hour, human sorters do not have an opportunity to discover possibly valuable/confidential information. 

The facility is closely monitored to ensure safety for the employees and the material; cameras are in place throughout the plant to ensure that sorters are focused on pulling out contamination.

Once paper is sorted, it is sent in bales to facilities overseas where manufacturers use it to make new paper products and packaging.

We take the trust that our customers put in us seriously, on all fronts, including their protecting their information.

If customers are concerned about scavengers going through their recycling at the curb, I would encourage them not to shred their sensitive documents, but rather to use them to wrap up food scraps and put them into the green bin for composting.

Using credit card and bank statements to wrap up last night’s table scraps and other food scrap items encourages folks to recycle food scraps while avoiding the need for “compostable” plastic bags. Scavengers are not going through the green bins, especially when customers are using them to recycle leaves and grass as well as food scraps.

Customers can also put shredded paper into the green bin for composting. Paper in any form can help keep the green bin cleaner to avoid flies and smells.

Rebecca Jewell is happy to answer Patch readers' questions about recycling. You may email questions to her directly at rjewell@wm.com or via Patch at dixie.jordan@patch.com.

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Robert Marshall January 07, 2014 at 09:11 PM
Shredders are cheap enough these days. Ideally, get yourself a cross-cut shredder, which slices and dices the paper into little confetti sized material. Barring that, a strip shredder is better than nothing! And right now, the Office Depot over on Gilman is up to 80% off on some stuff in their moving (across the street) sale. Don't know if they have any shredders. But, it certainly would be worth checking out.
Christina Creveling January 08, 2014 at 12:44 AM
Oh, really! I don't keep my last year's bank statements in the kitchen where they would be handy to wrap up my garbage ! I think this suggestion should have been thought about a little longer. And why are compostable bags in quotes: "compostable" bags? What conspiracy lurks there...
Mindful Transitions January 08, 2014 at 09:33 AM
A larger question to management at waste management recycling facilities is educating the public and addressing the issue raised in this article. Identity theft is more likely to happen through stolen mail, however I watch every week scavengers go through trash bins everywhere.
Robert Marshall January 08, 2014 at 10:52 AM
I'm surprised your garbage person has enough time Mindful. Down here they have one guy walking the street straightening up the cans so the dude, who never gets out of the truck, can drive by and grab it with the big claw before dumping it into the truck with about five or six big bangs to make sure everything has fallen out! I've never seen any trash workers handpicking through the trash.
Alan Eckert January 08, 2014 at 11:56 AM
There was a program that you could sign up for to try and have the "best" trash/recycling/green bin separation. I think that whomever was doing this was also going through other people's containers, too. It's just impossible to go through even a small percentage of bins on the curb in the Bay Area.

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