Best Practices for Disposing of Confidential Legal Documents

May 24, 2023

A large red X is overlaid on a photo of a woman dumping shredded paper into an open dumpster.Proper disposal of confidential legal documents is essential to protecting sensitive information and maintaining data security. Improperly discarding legal documents can leave them vulnerable to theft and misuse, potentially causing significant harm.

In this article, we will outline the best practices for disposing of confidential legal documents, highlighting the places where you should not dispose of them and providing expert guidance on appropriate disposal methods that will keep your information secure and promote environmental sustainability.

Let’s explore the dos and don’ts of disposing of confidential legal documents to safeguard your sensitive information.

Where Not To Dispose of Confidential Legal Documents

1. Trash Bin

One of the easiest and most common places to dispose of anything is in the trash can. Most people would be surprised to learn how much sensitive information is simply tossed out, making it available to anyone to find or steal.

When discarding legal documents, it is crucial to properly destroy them. Crumpling or tearing them up by hand does not deter identity thieves who are willing to piece documents back together to steal information and identities.

According to Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-1-101, dumpster divers are legally allowed to retrieve and keep someone else’s trash: “…all property, real and personal, of every kind and description, including but not limited to garbage, trash, and other refuse, which is placed at the curb or other designated area for collection by the collector, shall be deemed to be the property of the collector.”

Of course, thieves will take valuable information from your trash no matter what the law says, so this is not the place for confidential legal documents.

2. Recycling Bin

While recycling is generally considered a good choice, it is not appropriate for disposing of confidential legal documents. Although recycling is more environmentally friendly than sending documents to the landfill, the same rule applies: Thieves have access to your recycling bin as well as your trash. If environmental considerations are important to you, it is advisable to use a secure, local shredding company that recycles all shredded paper.

3. Office Shredder

Although you might think using an office shredder is a better solution than a dumpster or recycling bin, it often falls short. Many consumer shredding machines do not adequately shred documents as required by data privacy laws. To ensure proper information destruction, engage a reputable shredding company with an industrial-strength shredder that can also furnish you with a Certificate of Destruction to prove your compliance with data privacy laws in case of an audit.

4. Burn Piles

Disposing of legal documents in your home fireplace or campfire is not a suitable choice. Burning paper in your fireplace is hazardous to indoor air quality and the atmosphere due to the toxic fumes it releases. Paper can also burn at extreme temperatures and send burning paper airborne to ignite objects in the room or brush in the forest. Burning paper and other wood products can leave flammable creosote deposits on the walls of your chimney and cause a house fire. Add to this the fact that in many cases, a stack of papers will not burn fully or evenly. Any information left unburned or still readable, whether charred or not, is not considered properly or legally destroyed.

5. Compost

Perhaps surprisingly, some individuals choose to dispose of legal documents through composting. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the documents will be fully destroyed. Until they are completely unreadable and cannot be reconstructed, they sit in the garden, vulnerable to being lost or stolen at any time.

Where to Dispose of Confidential Legal Documents

NAID AAA Certified Shredding Company

According to FACTA, there are a few approved methods of destroying documents, and in the legal profession, shredding has always been the top choice. Shredding allows for complete document destruction in an environmentally friendly process since shredded material can be recycled into new paper products, contributing to the economy and the health of the planet. Here are some benefits:

  • Affordable: By using a shredding company, you won’t waste staff time feeding documents into shredding machines that jam, break down, and create noise. Additionally, you won’t have to bear the cost of replacing a shredder.
  • Secure: A NAID AAA Certified shredding company is held accountable by a third party to can provide secure and compliant shredding services that meet the highest security standard in the industry.
  • Chain of Custody: Ensure an unbroken chain of custody through the use of locked shredding collection containers and request a Certificate of Destruction when shredding is complete to prove your legal compliance—a vital aspect of the destruction process that doesn’t come with any of the other disposal methods mentioned in this article.
  • Options: A reputable shredding company will offer regularly-scheduled or one-time shredding options to accommodate your requirements. They may also provide a drop-off shredding option, which may be a more practical choice depending on the size of your practice.

At ShredPro Secure, we provide NAID AAA Certified secure shredding services to legal practices, businesses, and residents throughout East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. We make shredding easy by bringing our shredding truck to your location to destroy your documents on-site. To schedule your hassle-free shredding service, call us at 865-986-5444 or complete the form on this page. Our shredding experts are standing by!

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