Turns out that the office never had a shredder due to noise concerns and we seldom have work documents that demand such treatment.

But one day the unexpected happened, and we had to literally burn the stuff up in the toilet (with care, of course).

How do others deal with such a situation?

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    Noise concerns? If you need to shred as seldom as you describe, it will be noisy for maybe a minute a month. There are plenty of small inexpensive shredders which can handle the load you describe, and people can deal with the very brief noise. – David K Apr 11 '16 at 19:54
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    We go out to Staples, etc. and buy a shredder. – RBarryYoung Apr 11 '16 at 21:37
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    I really don't understand why literally starting a fire in the bathroom is considered favorable to the momentary noise a shredder makes. Would you rather make a little noise or risk an injury or damage by starting a fire in a toilet? At best you could just get a small burn, at worst you end up burning down your workplace. – Captain Man Apr 12 '16 at 14:15
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    @CaptainMan: Presumably the documents were the results of the annual building safety audit. – Lightness Races with Monica Apr 14 '16 at 13:28
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    at a pinch and if it was very urgent, you could divide the papers amongst you and eat them. – Kilisi Apr 14 '16 at 21:09

13 Answers 13


Turns out that the office never had a shredder due to noise concerns and we seldom have work documents that demand such treatment.

Noise is an excuse, not the actual reason.

Shredders aren't all that noisy, and could easily be operated after hours or in a utility closet where nobody would be disturbed.

Most likely, they simply didn't want to spend the money. Perhaps they were just being frugal, or perhaps they were misguided.

But one day the unexpected happened, and we had to literally burn the stuff up in the toilet (with care, of course).

Burning would work.

Of course, if you set off the smoke alarm it will be far more noisy than a shredder. And if you burn the building down you would have to work outside and listen to traffic going by - that could be noisy too.

How do others deal with such a situation?

I worked at an 8-person startup. When we collected paper that needed to be shredded, the CEO took it home and shredded it there. You could take it anywhere a shredder is available (an office-services shop, home, whatever) and get it shredded pretty easily.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Apr 14 '16 at 0:06
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    +1 for Of course, if you set off the smoke alarm it will be far more noisy than a shredder. And if you burn the building down you would have to work outside and listen to traffic going by - that could be noisy too. – puzzlepiece87 Apr 14 '16 at 17:24

You didn't have to burn stuff in the toilet. Actually, burning stuff in the toilet is beyond reckless. Think: What's the worst that can happen? The worst is your office building on fire. If you need to destroy paper, and you don't have a shredder, you buy a shredder.

Unless you are in the deepest Australian outback, it shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes to buy a shredder and return to the office with it.

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    Shredders seem like Security Through Obscurity- bad idea!? – james Apr 14 '16 at 21:27
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    @binnyb: No, hiding the papers in the elevator shaft would be security through obscurity. Physically destroying the medium information is recorded on is one of the most effective ways of denying attackers access to it, as long as you're thorough enough that the information can't be reconstructed from the remains (so get a good shredder). – user2357112 supports Monica Apr 15 '16 at 1:34
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    Shredders don't destroy paper. They only shred it making it difficult to read but nowhere near to impossible. Using water and paint thinner to dissolve the paper is a better solution. – JP de la Torre Apr 15 '16 at 4:19
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    @JPdelaTorre - It's a cost versus risk decision -- you can buy shredders of various grades with smaller and smaller shred sizes up to disintegrating shredders that grind the paper into dust like this hammermill shredder. Though reconstructing shredded documents takes so much effort that a typical cross-cut shredder is sufficient for most offices. – Johnny Apr 15 '16 at 4:49
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    Sure, I know it's possible to de-shred documents, I just question whether the typical office has secrets valuable to make it worth the effort (and arranging and scanning thousands of page fragments is still quite labor intensive), when if a attacker is willing to physically target business, there are many other ways to get at its secrets that take much less effort and are more likely to yield results. For those that do have secrets that valuable, they had better already have a security officer to tell them how to securely dispose of documents, like using a hammermill style disintegrator. – Johnny Apr 17 '16 at 13:27

The usual solution is to hire a professional disposal contractor to turn up with a shredding truck, and not only shred all the records while you watch if necessary, but provide a signed log evidencing that (which can be essential for certain types of documentation.)

In an emergency your solution works, but is not as safe or clean. If you have a wood fired boiler at work that can be a better option, or as more and more companies go 'green' many are installing biomass converters which can cope with paper along with other organics.

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    Alternatively, if there's only a few documents to get rid of, you can usually just drive them over to the shredding shop and have them done on the spot. Much cheaper than hiring over the truck if you don't have enough work to justify the cost. – J... Apr 13 '16 at 1:07

I can't believe nobody has mentioned scissors yet! Yes, it might take a while to shred paper to the extent that a paper shredder would, but it is free, and safer than starting a fire in your toilet (as long as you watch your fingers!)

Or, if your office won't spring for a shredder, maybe they can at least justify purchasing a pair of shredder scissors for the rare cases that they are needed:

shredder scissors

Also, whenever I chop up old credit cards by hand, I always throw the pieces away into several different trash cans. I figure this greatly reduces the chances that someone will be able to find all the pieces and put it back together.

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    Scissors like that are also called "Herb scissors," easy to find in cooking supply stores, some bigger grocery stores, etc – Xen2050 Apr 12 '16 at 16:25
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    which makes somewhat of an odd presence in our setting @prusswan - Would it really be that uncomfortable to have a shredder there? Perhaps this is actually just cultural differences, but it sounds like you're imagining a huge machine. – BSMP Apr 12 '16 at 20:40
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    A shredder in the office looks professional, indicating that people there are well aware of privacy concerns and know how to deal with it to protect my data assets I may have to hand over to them. - Shred everything. Just to make the statement: "We don't judge if (your) data deserves privacy. No data leaves this company." – JimmyB Apr 13 '16 at 9:02
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    I mentioned scissors and paper cutters in a comment that was moved to chat. I'm glad someone elevated the idea to full answer status. Scissors are what I use to "shred" the occasional credit card offer that I get at home. I don't generate enough sensitive documents to justify an entire shredder. +1 – Todd Wilcox Apr 13 '16 at 12:53
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    I have a pair of those scissors. They're OK for shredding the occasional credit card receipt, but trying to use them for even a single sheet of A4 is torture. Get a shredder. – nekomatic Apr 14 '16 at 8:04

You're heard "buy a shredder". Buy one. Good ones are not as noisy as you think, I have one I blagged off ebay and while it would make a noise that would disturb someone if they were working, you'd have to really go shred a thousand pages, one at a time, before they set on you. Besides, you can put it out of the way or use it out of hours.

Bear in mind that burning can be not as reliable as you think: if you are not taking care to burn each page slowly, and try to burn a lot of pages at once in a metal can, you will find that much of the paper does not burn away - it will float away in the hot thermal draughts, it will leave behind half-burned pages.

But the best way to get rid of paper is water. Water will easily turn a book into a pulpy mass of fibres given a bit of time and some stirring. This is probably the best approach, particularly if you've shredded the pages first (or even just torn them into strips). Put them in a bucket and wait for them to fall apart. Bonus if you make new paper out of the mulch!

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    Once you have made it into new paper, shred that paper just to be on the safe side. – user45590 Apr 12 '16 at 14:04
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    @dan1111 and then burn it! – gbjbaanb Apr 12 '16 at 20:12
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    Don't forget to then pulp the ashes... – Oscar Bravo Apr 13 '16 at 14:51
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    Last time this was done, they did this to it. :-( – wizzwizz4 Apr 14 '16 at 18:55
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    Then bury them. Then plant kudzu on them. Then make the bamboo into paper. Then burn that paper. – wizzwizz4 Apr 14 '16 at 18:58

If shredding is something you don't do very often, the shredding jobs are not too big when you get them, and you don't need cross cut shredding, then you might consider a hand operated shredder. I have one for home use and, in my experience, it is easy to operate and doesn't make nearly as much noise as an electromechanical shredder. On the other hand, I have found that I must be careful to avoid shredding too many sheets at once - two or three sheets thick is about the maximum mine will take. So, sound-wise, the noise you make won't be as loud, but will last longer. Amazon has one similar to mine for $13 at this link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004IAF544/

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    IIRC, my electric cross-cut one cost $20. They're not exactly expensive. – reirab Apr 11 '16 at 23:58
  • @reirab: Indeed that's not expensive, but since the OP said they hadn't gotten such a shredder due to noise, I was offering an alternative that shouldn't be so noisy. – GreenMatt Apr 12 '16 at 18:11

Since funds are scarce, you can have a bake sale or maybe a 50/50 lottery where the proceeds go to a paper shredder. Run it at night or first thing in the morning before the quiet hours start.

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    Good point. If the documents in question aren't worth the $20 or $30 it would cost to buy a paper shredder, than just throw them in the trash. No one cares. – Jay Apr 12 '16 at 5:51
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    If the company has the slightest feeling that they might benefit from having a shredder but they don't get one, that company is not one I'd like to do business with because I cannot trust them to not (carelessly) sell me out for a 50$ saving. – JimmyB Apr 13 '16 at 9:08

If all other logistics do not pose an issue (e.g. moving the documents, keeping them contained in a public area, etc.) and depending on your area, you may be able to find "community shred" events. They are free and occur pretty regularly in larger or "greener" areas.

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    Why the downvotes on this answer? – Monica Cellio Apr 12 '16 at 16:03
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    "Drive-by downvoters" suck. I'm giving it a +1 – Xen2050 Apr 12 '16 at 16:26
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    @MonicaCellio - No idea. There are some banks/credit unions that do this fairly regularly. I'd think a bank's standards for sensitive document disposal would be sufficient. OP also says up front that this requires the logistics work out so I can't even guess what the objection to this one is. – BSMP Apr 12 '16 at 20:36

Many stores like office supply or shipping stores offer shredding services for smaller jobs like yours sounded like on a walk in basis.

Just ensure that the documents are properly secured when you leave the office and take them straight to the shredding location.


If this is a one-time or very rare need, and the amount of paper is modest, I'd just drop them in a metal trash can and burn them. A small enough number of pages at a time that the flames stay contained within the trash can. That's a more thorough destruction than a shredder anyway -- determined people have managed to re-assemble shredded pages.

Frankly, though, I think I'd just buy a paper shredder. You can get a cheap one at any office supply store for like $30.

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    Outside. You forgot to say outside. – user1717828 Apr 12 '16 at 16:49
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    Burning paper is difficult and somewhat dangerous. Doing it outside is less dangerous but more difficult since it's very easy for the wind to put out the fire and/or distribute half-burnt papers all over your neighbourhood. Doing it inside is more dangerous because, you know, burning stuff and, presumably disabling the smoke detectors somehow and... – David Richerby Apr 13 '16 at 0:02

Some good answers already, but all take time. Not great when the SWAT team are trying to bust through the door and the secretary and CEO are trying to hold it closed and wedge a chair under the handle while the wood around the lock is starting to splinter. And the helicopters are making a racket outside making it hard to concentrate. The VP has soiled himself and is running around like the end of the World has come etc,.

For small and rare occasions, burning the documents in anything metal or ceramic is a reasonable thing to do if you're pressed for time. Use common sense in terms of fire safety. Flush or crush the ashes.

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    Surely the first bit of common sense in fire safety is "don't start fires in offices"? :) – Julia Hayward Apr 12 '16 at 7:45
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    So I should stop smoking? Perhaps not use my soldering iron? Throw away the gas stove in the kitchen area? Common sense is common sense..... – Kilisi Apr 12 '16 at 7:50
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    @Kilisi: to be fair, if your soldering iron is starting fires in the office then you might be doing it wrong. But on the plus side, in terms of fire safety the SWAT team will probably stop the building burning down no matter what you do, if only in the hope of preserving evidence ;-) – Steve Jessop Apr 12 '16 at 9:26
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    Can't believe I got two downvotes on this perfectly reasonable answer :-) – Kilisi Apr 12 '16 at 15:35
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    The non-answer (the first paragraph) exceeds the answer (the second paragraph), so I'm not surprised by downvotes. The OP isn't talking about secretly burning evidence or police raids, so the first paragraph strikes me as absurd and out of place. – Monica Cellio Apr 12 '16 at 16:01

You're already standing in front of a toilet, trying to burn paper without burning yourself or setting anything else on fire... Skip the fire & smoke, and resulting danger of injury & damage, and just rip up a sheet into smaller "poo-sized" pieces and drop them right in the toilet. You could even wait for the paper to start to dissolve, then flush them down. A few extra flushes is even cheaper than buying a real shredder.

If your sewer pipes are particularly clogg-able, then do what several answers on this similar Q on the Lifehacks stackexchange How to shred papers/letters without using a shredder machine suggest and use a bucket of water, possibly adding salt or vinegar, and using a paint mixer (or egg beaters) to really liquify the paper. That would be even more secure than a regular shredder's pieces that could conceivably still be read.

There are tons of solid physical objects that survive the trip through sewer pipes without clogging them to be found at the sewage treatment plant. Some of the things that have been recovered from a sewage treatment plant in England include false teeth, mobile phones, USB drives, plastic toy figurines, credit cards, golf balls, hair rollers, spoons, watches... just about anything that fits in a pipe.

items removed from sewage treatment plant
"Golf balls and hair curlers were also regular finds at the treatment plant"

Honestly, if you were doing this the right way you wouldn't be anywhere near a toilet in the first place, and definitely wouldn't involve fire. This is safest way to do something wrong.

Actually, regular paper shredders may not be as safe as generally assumed, not just from a Mission Impossible movie reconstrucing some shredded documents. See:

Identity Theft shredder image

* You may want to think twice about working somewhere that can't even afford a cheap shredder, and thinks it's OK to have employees starting fires in bathrooms.

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    I'd upvote this for being so practical, but after the soap microbead ban there were water treatment people making the very public outcry that nothing should be flushed down the toilet except excrement and toilet paper, as the infrastructure just isn't there to handle anything else. – user1717828 Apr 12 '16 at 16:53
  • Well, toilet paper's made of fibers, nearly identical to regular paper but falls apart faster, and "used food" has lots of fiber too. Using a bucket and paint mixer first to liquify the paper may be safest, but for a couple sheets I wouldn't worry, especially one sheet per flush. – Xen2050 Apr 12 '16 at 17:07
  • Actually, regular paper shredders may not be as safe as generally assumed - Those all assume that all the shredded paper gets thrown away together. All you have to do is not put all of it in the same bag or same trash can. – BSMP Apr 12 '16 at 20:33
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    There are two simple words for the practice of flushing crumpled-up copier paper down the toilet: they are "blocked toilet". Toilet paper is very carefully manufactured to fall apart when wet; even facial tissues are much more resilient in water than toilet paper and a ball of copier paper will stay in one piece all the way to the treatment plant, assuming it doesn't get stuck somewhere. – David Richerby Apr 13 '16 at 0:08

You can use a bucket with water and bleach, and a stick. While the water and the stick will break the papers into pieces the bleach will remove the ink from the papers making it absolutely impossible for others to recover the text.

Shredded papers can be pieced together back like a puzzle and burned papers can be also salvaged if not properly burned and destroyed. It was probably faster way to destroy large quantities of papers than shredding them. Pour the liquid to the sewers and throw the remains to the bin.

  • Practically, it would be infeasible to put piece shredded pieces of paper together. Cost > benefit. – Anthony Apr 14 '16 at 0:31
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    Even if legitimate, imagine explaining in court why you did what you did, and how credible you would seem. This sounds ... fishy. – jimm101 Apr 14 '16 at 1:16
  • @Anthony Not necessarily, see the other answer – rath Apr 14 '16 at 12:34