A Guide to Disposing of Sensitive Documents
Whether you work from home or in an office setting, you probably have a few papers here and there that shouldn’t be thrown into the trash or recycling willy-nilly. Credit unions, doctor’s offices, and schools also need to know how to safely dispose of personal information.
Why Proper Disposal is Important
It’s not unjustified paranoia to want to destroy documents that have personal information on them. Identity theft can happen in a number of ways, and access to papers with your name, date of birth, and address can help thieves create fraudulent accounts. So, what are some ways you can dispose of sensitive documents to avoid a security breach? After all, you can’t hang on to every single piece of paper that contains personal data.
Ways to Destroy Sensitive Information
Yes, we live in an increasingly paperless world, but even junk mail can allow personal information to get into the wrong hands. With your name and address, someone could open lines of credit under your identity, wreaking havoc on your financial records. Let’s explore some of the data you should be safeguarding, and ways you can dispose of documents in the workplace or your work-from-home place.
Examples of Personal Data
- Social security number
- Home address
- Account passwords/PINs
- Credit/debit card numbers
- Driver’s license number
- Student ID numbers
- Health records
- Citizenship/Citizen Visa code
- Veteran and/or disability status
Whether you’re getting rid of bank statements, Medicare paperwork, or junk mail, to keep your data safe, here’s how you should discard your paperwork to reduce potential threats to your identity or the identity of your clients.
Many offices have in-house shredders so you can conveniently discard sensitive documents without much effort. If you don’t have one in your office, consider hiring out shredding services to a local company. They can come to your office and collect sensitive information to be shredded and recycled safely.
Sometimes banks and credit unions offer mobile shredding services, and you can bring your documents to their lobbies or parking lots to make use of a shredder. A benefit of using a collection or mobile shredding service is that your sensitive documents will be mixed with those from many other offices, making it harder to reverse-engineer shredded paper to make it whole again. Also, these companies often dispose of hard drives as well, so you can safely discard digitally stored data if need be.
Personal shredders for your home can cost as little as $30, which is a small price to pay to avoid having your identity stolen.
Types of Shredders
Keep in mind that not all shredders are created equal. There are some that cut in one direction to make paper strips and others that cut paper in two directions, creating smaller pieces.
- Strip Cut – Cuts paper into single strips, creating less bulk
- Crosscut- Cuts paper into multiple strips, creating more bulk
If you don’t have a shredder, did you know you can use a simple hole punch to remove personal data from paperwork? If there’s a statement with just a name, some dates, or account numbers on it, take the hole punch to that information before disposing of the paper. You could even go the extra mile and hole-punch documents before putting the remaining paper through your shredder.
This is a less-than-ideal method but can do in a pinch. You can manually shred your paperwork into strips and pieces if you don’t have access to a shredder. If you do have to go this route, break up the hand-shredded paper before throwing it in recycling or trash bins. Walk through your office and toss pieces of your document in multiple bins throughout the week so they’re collected and discarded at different times. This can help prevent dumpster divers from having access to all your hand-shredded paperwork at once.
It’s not recommended that you burn sensitive documents in the office, but if you’re disposing of personal data at home, it’s a viable option. You can burn paperwork in a firepit or on your grill as long as you’re willing to vigilantly monitor the flames. Be sure you also have a plan to safely discard the ashes, especially if you have a lot of papers to burn.
Have you ever thought of soaking your paperwork in water, or bleaching it? If you have just a few pieces of paper, you can slip them into a gallon-sized, zippable plastic bag with water. Over a few days, the paper will disintegrate, and/or the ink will be unreadable. You can encourage the breakdown by kneading the bag regularly, leaving you with pulpy paper that you can dry out and throw away.
You can expedite the water-soaking process by adding bleach to your solution, but it isn’t necessary. The use of bleach helps break down the ink and paper, but it can be a smelly and messy alternative to using just water. If you’re interested, here’s a recommended method for destroying documents with bleach water:
- Wear protective clothing and goggles
- Mix five gallons of water with one gallon of bleach
- Add paperwork and submerge it completely
- Check soaking papers after 24 hours
- Stir or blend the pulpy papers to break them up
- Dry pulpy paper and throw it away
Did you know you can add paper to your compost? It’s a good source of carbon for your compost pile, and it’s a convenient way to dispose of some sensitive documents. As long as the paper is matte (not glossy), and doesn’t contain any plastic (i.e. window inserts in envelopes), you can shred it or rip it up and add it to your bin.
Types of Paper You Can Compost
- Copy paper
- Notebook paper
Smaller pieces of paper work best in compost, and they should be amended into your mixture gradually versus all at once.
Weber State University shares suggestions for protecting your information on computer systems, which can be helpful in our digital age.
What else do you have in your office or home that you should dispose of properly? Western Elite rents dumpsters in the Henderson and Las Vegas areas of Nevada, so they know a thing or two about waste. HERE is an article that makes you think about what you’re tossing in the bins at your office, and what you might want to do with that trash instead.