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Secrets to better shredders

Got any secrets?

Your business plan? Last quarter's profits? Your next bold initiative?

Whatever it is, odds are you have written it down somewhere. And when you go to clean out that file folder, you should consider shredding the contents.

"Anything you wouldn't feel comfortable having someone pick up and read, that's what you should shred," says Jerry Haas, vice president of sales and marketing for American Document Destruction Corp. in Tampa, Fla.

It's quite a list
It's not just financial documents that should be destroyed rather than tossed out with the trash. Mobile Document Shredding in Lewisville, Texas, provides a list that includes:

  • Acquisition strategies
  • Bidding strategies
  • Blueprints
  • Building and computer access codes
  • Company expansion or reduction plans
  • Contracts
  • Credit card information
  • Customer lists
  • Employment applications
  • Estimates
  • Inventory lists
  • Market studies
  • Personnel files that may include evaluations and Social Security numbers
  • Pricing strategies
  • Proposals
  • Research and development reports

Once you've decided to shred documents, you will need to decide whether to buy a shredder or hire a shredding service.

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The wonderful world of shredders
Shredders come in many shapes and sizes and sell at a variety of prices. A quick survey of the Web sites of three office supply stores and a California company that sells shredders and provides shredding services shows that prices range from $15 to $6,500.

Automatic Response Systems of Berkeley, Calif., describes on its Web site the three most common shredders:

  • Strip cut: The most basic shredder, it strips paper into shreds. It is the easiest shredder to maintain.
  • Cross cut: The cross-cut shredder dices paper by cutting it in two directions and provides better security, the company says., but it requires more maintenance and handles fewer sheets of paper at a time than a strip-cut machine.
  • The disintegrator: Also called a granulator, its rotating knives cut paper, Mag tapes and CD-ROMs until they are small enough to fall through a filtering screen at the bottom of a chamber, which is emptied by a vacuum system.

When selecting a shredder, consider:

  • the speed at which it operates;
  • the security level provided by the size of the shred;
  • whether the size of the opening will accommodate the paper you have; and
  • how many sheets of paper it will handle in one pass.

You also need to consider the condition of the documents you need to destroy. The finer the cut, the fussier the machine, according to Automatic Response. Machines that make fine shreds dislike a diet of staples and paper clips.

What about hiring a shredding service?

If doing shredding in house would strain your already overworked staff, it might be time to consider hiring a shredding service.

"Even 15 minutes a day adds up," says Matt Meredith, operations manager for Docu-Shred in Tualatin, Ore.

If you have a lot of shredding, it might be cheaper to hire a shredding service than have your staff do it, once you factor in supplies, maintenance and labor expenses, Meredith says.

You also might consider hiring if the only person available to do the shredding is someone who should not see the materials being shredded. If the paperwork in your office frankly discusses personnel, clients and business moves, "Do you want to give that to a junior level person?" Haas asks. "He's going to read it!"

So what do you get?
Shredding services will either do the work in their truck on your property or remove your papers to a shredding facility. People in the business say it is more secure to have them shredded on your property because it assures they are illegible when they are transported.

You can place your business on a regular schedule with a shredding service, or bring one in when you clean out a back room of old records. Most companies will provide waste paper storage bins for their regular clients. Prices increase with the size of the job: Some companies charge by the pound, some by the volume.

American Document Destruction Corp. in Florida bills by the pound -- about 16 cents per pound, Haas says. But the price per pound varies depending on quantity (the more shredding, the lower the per-pound price) and accessibility (the harder it is to get to, the higher the price).

"If you're only going to have 10 or 15 pounds in a month, if you're going to have half a box of paper," Haas says, "it's just not worth having a shredding service."

Jan Lindsey is a freelance writer based in Florida.

-- Updated: Sept. 25, 2005


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