How to destroy paper records
March 11, 2009 10:54 AM   Subscribe

How do I physically destroy old paper records, obvious methods problematical ...

Basement cleanout revealed several hundred student evaluations from my (private) high school teaching career several decades ago. Quarterly grades and comments were typed onto multi-part carbonless forms for distribution to the various parties.

So these are flimsy, icky, 5" x 8" copies, now heavily mildewed and sometimes stuck together, but still readable with a little effort. Some of the students were from well known families and some are now celebrities in their own right who would be instantly recognizable to any dumpster diver or recycling center worker. Nothing tabloid worthy, but it would be embarrasing if any of this ended up on the web. And the source would be clear since my name is on every one of them.

Here's what I don't want to do: shred (mildew all over), burn (no obvious place to do it), cutting off the name at the top of each form (hazmat mask + several tedious hours).

Any ideas? Should I soak the entire lot in a pail of bleach?
posted by Kevin S to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The bleach thing sounds about right, if the other methods won't work for you. Of course, then you have to dispose of a pulpy bleachy mess. Bury them in the back yard, maybe? If you have access to a compost pile, chuck 'em in. Worm bins are said to do well with paper waste as well.
posted by jquinby at 10:59 AM on March 11, 2009

Go camping. Enjoy the woods, use the copies to keep your fire going, I bet you'll get through them over weekend.
posted by RajahKing at 10:59 AM on March 11, 2009

Shred them at a UPS Store?
posted by katillathehun at 11:00 AM on March 11, 2009

(By the way, that's just a random location I picked, I have no idea where you're located)
posted by katillathehun at 11:01 AM on March 11, 2009

Hire a disposal service to shred it off-site. Google search for "document destruction."

Would burning it really be all that safe?
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 11:09 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Drain cleaner with a sulfuric acid base might do the job.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:10 AM on March 11, 2009

Hire a document destruction service. They'll move everything for you, and they're surprisingly inexpensive.
posted by anastasiav at 11:24 AM on March 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

If burning in your barbeque grill isn't an option (and neither is heading out to a nearby campsite), then use the tub.

Throw the docs in there with some warm water and a few capfuls of bleach. (The bleach isn't really necessary, since you'll be mixing this into a gray mush anyway, but it'll make the mush whiter and brighter). Let it soak for a while, then mix it up well, and repeat.

You'll want to use a screen or something to filter out the fibrous material before draining the tub. Clogging your pipes with paper-mache would not be an ideal outcome here.

If you're feeling ambitious, you can look up recycled papermaking online and use the mush to make homemade stationary, invitations, etc.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:28 AM on March 11, 2009

Got any partially used cans of paint? Drop them into the paint cans. Dispose of the said paint cans through appropriate means. Sometimes you can buy one-off cans of mismatched paint from hardware stores.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:33 AM on March 11, 2009

I had similar problem where confidential special education records were stored in a basement that flooded and subsequently became covered in mold. Should a single one of those documents see the light of day the company I worked for could have been fined $200k.

We hired a document shredding service after everything dried out and that was the end of that. It was not that expensive to shred two dozen banker boxes full of documents and a lot less work than soaking them, burning them, or burying them in bleach.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:36 AM on March 11, 2009

I fourth the document destruction service. There will be several in your local phone book. Some of them drive a truck out to you that has a giant shredder built into it, which is kind of cool.
posted by raf at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2009

Check to see if your town/city/county recycling organization has a "shred day" coming up. Last year, the county I lived in hired a shredding truck to set up in a parking lot all morning. You could dump your boxes and leave or stay and watch to verify that they were loaded in and destroyed.
posted by djb at 12:11 PM on March 11, 2009

Nthing the document shredding service; I've used one before and highly recommend it. Fast, worry-free (if you watch them do it), and no messy cleanup or harsh fumes involved on your end.

Don't do the bathtub thing -- it makes a giant, pulpy mess which you'll regret to your dying day. Worst of all, the ink may not even fade enough and you'll be stuck sifting through and cleaning up that smelly, back-breaking mess anyway. Avoid.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:06 PM on March 11, 2009

Please don't use toxic chemicals and then put them in your yard or the garbage.

Many shred services will let you stand there while they're doing the destruction so that you can verify every piece of paper was destroyed without releasing compromising details. That's your best option.
posted by batmonkey at 1:28 PM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Looks like shredding is the way to go here. Local UPS only has a small office type shredder. But I will hunt down a shredding-while-you-watch service.

Thanks everyone.
posted by Kevin S at 5:46 AM on March 12, 2009

please skip the toxic waste solutions, go with a professional document shredding company. you owe it to your students to dispose of these records professionally and with discretion. then you can move on to other things and never have to think about this mess again!
posted by kuppajava at 5:57 PM on March 12, 2009

Indeed, I do owe this to the students. I will find a way to shred. Thanks again.
posted by Kevin S at 11:04 AM on March 13, 2009

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