Help me figure out how to dispose of moldy papers I shouldn't just throw out.
December 2, 2012 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I have papers that I would normally shred or burn, but now they got wet and are somewhat moldy. What do I do with them now?

I had an apartment flood a few weeks ago, and while the flood cleanup guys did okay with most things, there were some egregious mistakes made, one of which was that they stuffed a couple of canvas bags full of papers I was planning to shred or burn (identifying info, etc.) into a garbage bag and closed it up for two weeks without telling me it was there. I'd forgotten all about that stuff, and I just came across it today in one of the last bags I unpacked. (They also helpfully stuffed three hardcover library books in there that I hadn't been able to find, along with my roll of stamps, so they could hardly have gotten mold on more inconvenient items if they'd tried, BUT WHATEVER.)

So all this stuff is moldy. Some of it can just go to recycling. But some of it needs to be shredded or burned. It's really too much stuff for me to shred myself in a personal shredder -- it's about a big garbage bag full. One of my friends burns junk mail in his fireplace (and has for years), so my plan before the flood was to go over there periodically and burn it up a little at a time.

But now I feel like (1) I don't know if I can burn stuff with mold on it, and (2) I really feel like I'm in a hurry to get it out of my apartment, but I can't throw it out or put it in the recycling, because this is all the shred stuff, like stuff with my bank account info and so forth.

I'm completely stumped by how to get rid of it relatively quickly; I don't even like having it in the house, as I said, now that I know it has mold on it.

If anyone has any brilliant ideas, I would really appreciate it.
posted by Linda_Holmes to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
A friend of mine periodically burns sensitive documents in a barbecue pit. Do you have one, or could you make a trip to a park that has one?

I don't see any reason why you couldn't use your friend's fireplace. I think the mold would be thoroughly destroyed by the flames.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:54 PM on December 2, 2012

Just a note, you shouldn't burn paper in a fireplace. It's a fire hazard and some paper releases toxic fumes. Including, most likely, junk mail.
posted by Justinian at 2:01 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are companies that do this, and you don't have to have a lot. They'll take thousands of boxes, or just one box. Google "shredding service" plus your city. (It's not very expensive.)
posted by Houstonian at 2:03 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you completely soak them for a day or so, they should dissolve into unreadable bits. Or at least get weak enough you could stir them into unreadable bits.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:03 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's probably a business in your area that does large-quantity shredding. Those businesses generally have massive paper-shredding machines that'll shred your stuff in no time, binder clips and all, for about $5-$15. Most places will do it on the spot while you watch. Plus the machines are pretty cool. Google for "walk in shredding," and give them a call to see if they'll take paper with mold on it.
posted by lilac girl at 2:04 PM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Just a note, you shouldn't burn paper in a fireplace. It's a fire hazard and some paper releases toxic fumes. Including, most likely, junk mail.

I know. It's a very not-ideal solution, and not something I do regularly, but all of my solutions are not-ideal solutions. I hear you, though; it's a fair point.

The walk-in shredding is a good idea. I'll have to ask if they care that it got wet, though. I'm a little nervous about that, but I'll ask.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2012

Credit unions, nonprofits, and municipalities often have free "shred days" where they pay for the truck and you just bring your boxes & bags of papers & they get shredded right there in the parking lot.
posted by headnsouth at 2:13 PM on December 2, 2012

A similar question, previously.

In that question there was a specific reason to guard the confidentiality of the documents. If your moldy documents are medical records or something truly confidential, the commercial shredding service is the way to go. if they are ordinary household stuff like credit card statements, bank statements, and bills, I think their moldy condition coupled with the remote odds that anyone would ever sort through them, much less be able to somehow profit from doing so, would suggest you just let the trash collection take them as-is. You could add some more water, bleach, milk, or used cat litter to the garbage bags to make your trash even more repellent.

The fact that you had planned to shred or burn the papers does not obligate you to do so.
posted by Snerd at 2:21 PM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I recommend you soak them in water and then drive them to a dump yourself. No problem.
posted by Justinian at 2:23 PM on December 2, 2012

When I had paperwork that needed to be destroyed and no shredder or shredding service I did this:
Put them in the tub, fill with water, let it soak overnight. Mix thoroughly into lumpy pulpy sludge. Drain it, wad it into paper balls, double bag it and take it to the curb. It'll probably be disgusting if they're particularly moldy. A couple tablespoons of bleach in the water will kill the mold. Use rubber gloves. If you have lots, do it in two or more batches.
posted by Ookseer at 2:31 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd do the soak method, but I'd do it in the bag. Add water, tie it tightly and stomp the ever-livin' shit out of it. I wouldn't even drain the bags before tossing them out.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2012

If you ask around, you might be able to find someone who works in an office with a "shred bin" (big lockable garbage can, regularly emptied by a company that shreds the contents). If they and their employer don't mind, and you or they take it in the day it's going to get picked up so as to not stink up the office, I'd just chuck the stuff in there. It's no skin off anybody's back at that point because the companies typically charge by the bin, not based on precisely how full the bin is. (So as long as there's enough space in the bin for your stuff, nobody ought to be bothered.)

The soaking thing is clever, but I'm not sure what I'd do with the paper mush that would result at the end of that process. You'd have to strain it out and throw it away, I guess; that sounds like a bit of an unpleasant mess in the winter. But it might be better than burning, just because burning paper produces a lot of ash (I dislike burning it in my fireplace for that reason).
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:38 PM on December 2, 2012

Dry it out and burn it a few sheets at a time.

You'll find that water really doesn't suffice to make pages unreadable, unless you can effectively put them in a blender. I've tried, with a much smaller pile of shreddable personal documents than you describe. After a week, I could still neatly pull out almost-intact pages and read them.

Even burning, you need to take care - If you put a pile of 50 neatly arranged pages in a good roaring fire and then forget about them, the middle 30 or so will frequently come out perfectly readable (well, an inch or so in from the edges, of course). Personally, I crumple each page individually (which makes the pages not stick together in the fire) and use a pile of those for starting my woodstove. So far, I haven't found anything readable in the ashes.

FWIW, you can burn most paper safely - Just avoid "coated" paper, and even then, most coated paper uses clay (which makes it not burn very well, but doesn't release toxic fumes) rather than plastic (the thing you actually want to avoid burning).
posted by pla at 5:02 PM on December 2, 2012

If you or any of your friends have a compost bin or pile (including a worm bin) you can put the papers in that. If you have a garden, you can dig a big hole and bury them. In both cases they will decompose.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:08 PM on December 2, 2012

Buy a shovel. Drive out into a rural area. Dig a hole. Bury the papers.

Any particular reason that wouldn't work?
posted by oceanjesse at 10:14 PM on December 2, 2012

I'd do the soak method with a little bleach to kill the nast.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:21 AM on December 3, 2012

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