Business woman stands in an office room full of documents in boxes and stacked on top of them.
Keeping your business's information safe is critical. When it's time to get rid of paper documents, know your options to discard your records carefully. — Getty Images/ piranka

How you handle company mail and paper documents can put your business, employee and customer data at risk. Likewise, if you're cleaning out your files, switching to a digital storage system or closing a business, these items shouldn't go in the trash or recycling bin.

There are several solutions for getting rid of your paper documents. Below we'll go over ways to dispose of everything from personnel files to invoice copies.

Know which records to keep and which to toss

Regardless of your industry, you don't want records with personally identifiable information (PII) or proprietary data falling into the wrong hands. Avoid throwing the following paper documents in the trash:

  • Duplicates of purchase orders.
  • Copies of packing lists, customer invoices and order confirmations.
  • Current and terminated employee payroll and personnel records.
  • Printed versions of email correspondence.
  • Financial statements, including sales and accounts receivable reports.
  • Business product development and marketing strategies.

Develop a document management system that covers how long you should keep documents, employee best practices and approved disposal methods. It's also a good idea to store trash and recycle containers inside, and keep them locked when possible.

[Learn more: A Quick Guide to Data Management, Protection and Storage]

Methods for document disposal

Paper shredders

A paper shredder is one of the most common ways to dispose of sensitive documents and offers convenience and security. You can buy three different types: cross-cut, strip-cut and Department of Defense (DOD)-certified. Cross-cut shredders cut paper in two directions. The downside is that cross-cut shredders create more paper volume, and the machine may need more frequent maintenance, such as oiling.

In contrast, strip-cut shredding only cuts in one direction. These shredders may last longer but provide less security for sensitive documents than heavy-duty versions. At the top end, DOD-certified models shred papers into tiny bits. But, they're more expensive than other options.

If you want a shredder, here are some things to consider:

  • The cost of shredders varies widely, from $30 to several thousand dollars.
  • Some shredders will break if they encounter staples or paper clips.
  • The shredding rate and size of documents the shredder can handle differ among models.
  • Container capacities vary, and you'll need to empty smaller ones more often.

Small job document disposal tools

The biggest problem you may face at your business is getting employees to dispose of paper documents properly. Out of convenience or habit, they may toss records or mail in the garbage or recycling bin.

Give staff tools to use at their desk, such as:

  • Multi-cut scissors: This tool works as a manual strip-cut shredder. You sacrifice some security due to the larger paper sizes, and it's laborious if you have many documents.
  • Trash can shredder: These portable solutions fit over a garbage can, allowing you to move them around the office.
  • Identity protection stamp: Handheld stamps are usually self-inking and may resemble a stamping tool or roller. They work by imprinting multiple black marks over confidential data.

The biggest problem you may face at your business is getting employees to dispose of paper documents properly. Out of convenience or habit, they may toss records or mail in the garbage or recycling bin.

Document shredding locations

Local companies may shred documents for their customers. Some services are free, whereas others charge per pound. Since they mix your papers with others from multiple customers, this can be a secure option. Examples of companies that destroy documents include:

  • Recycling companies.

  • Banks or credit unions.

  • Staples.

  • UPS Stores.

  • FedEx locations.

Professional paper shredding service

Service providers help businesses tackle big document disposal jobs by offering a document destruction service. They operate trucks and come to your location. Once there, they pick up and often shred your documents onsite. Afterward, they haul away the shredded documents.

The National Association of Information Destruction (NAID) certifies shred services, and working with a NAID-approved vendor can increase the security of document disposal.

Alternative methods to dispose of paper documents

National Security Agency (NSA) and HIPAA-approved document destruction methods also include burning and pulping. These methods are time-consuming and messy for small businesses. If burning documents, you need to ensure charred pieces don't fly into the air and that the ashes are well broken up after you finish.

Pulping involves soaking paper documents in a bin with water for 24 hours. Then, mix the solution using a paint mixer with a drill to ensure all the pieces have completely broken down.

Manage documents from creation to disposal

Whether you’re moving documents to cloud storage or getting rid of mail, destroying paper records is better than putting them in the trash. Choose convenient methods that protect sensitive data and let staff dispose of records or mail quickly.

[Read more: Best Data Backup Solutions for Your Business]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published October 11, 2021