Burning Documents - Good Idea?

April 19, 2013


You need a cheap way to dispose of those sensitive documents.  Why not burn them? After all fire is free and kind of fun.  Just need a match and a space to burn, right?  Sure, but what about the other impacts?

We get this response quite often – “we just burn our paper.”  There are a number of reasons this is a bad idea.   First there are the environmental impacts.  The smoke from the fires directly contributes to the green house gases (Global warming sound familiar?).  The other issue is the type of paper it is.  There are different paper grades along with the types of ink used.  If there is any plastic or vinyl mixed in the smoke can be toxic.  So it’s hard to really know what it is you are burning when you choose to dispose of documents this way.  The other environmental impact is the waste of paper.  Burning the paper leaves no possibilities of recycling it.  You may as well burn down a couple trees too. 

What about the non-environmental issues?  As fire burns it breaks down the paper into smoke and ash.  No information is obviously left in the smoke, but what about the ashes?  Could there still be legible material in the ashes? Are you planning to swift through the ashes ensuring there is no information left? What if pieces of paper blow away?  If you’re a business and burning your files as part of your records management program are you just choosing to ignore the possible fines your company can be liable for with burning?  Does burning comply with laws and how do you back that up if there is no real chain of custody?

Fire has many good uses – s’mores by a campfire or hot cocoa by the fireplace on a old night, but being a way to dispose of your records is not one of them.  Fires are influenced by other elements such as weather, which leaves you dealing with an uncontrollable source to dispose of proprietary information. 

When it comes to destroying your confidential material do you want to leave any thing to chance?  It may be cheaper to burn, but as my mom always said cheaper is not always better!  When it comes to protecting yourself, your business, your clients and your loved ones (our kids are susceptible too) from identity theft or other related crimes, using a secure shredding resource is the best option. Nothing is left to chance and the only environmental impact is a positive one. 

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