Tearing Up the Town

Many communities are beginning to offer shredding to residents.

More and More parts of the public sector are stepping up efforts to provide communities with solutions for disposing of piles of sensitive or confidential documents. Cities, counties and states are beginning to offer services such as single-day shredding events and centralized document disposal centers for residents and businesses that are looking to lighten their loads.

“People are very security conscious,” says Matt Zettek, a member of the Board of Selectmen for Hopkinton, Mass. “We've been seeing more shredding events in Massachusetts.” Zettek, who also has worked as a solid waste consultant for more than 75 cities over the last 15 years, says the town sought to include two shredding days a year in its negotiations last year with haulers for the town's solid waste contract, which was eventually awarded to E.L. Harvey & Sons, Westboro, Mass. Once plans are finalized, Zettek says the town hopes for an event in April and another in October.

Ben Harvey, executive vice president of E.L. Harvey & Sons, says plans are in their preliminary stages, but would likely include the company sending two of its mobile shredding trucks to a central location for each event. The services would be free of charge to residents, Harvey adds, and the company would keep the shredded product, which usually sells to local paper mills for nearly $200 per ton.

Many people choose very inefficient ways to shred their confidential documents, Zettek says. For example, he called the local police chief while the town was procuring the current contract with E.L. Harvey and discovered that the department was taking its documents to local incinerators in squad cars. There, officers would wait to observe the materials go into the incinerator to be sure the materials were destroyed. “It took too much time while costing the town,” Zettek says.

Local governments are finding other ways to offer shredding services. Both Oneida County, Wis., and Wood County, Ohio, have started offering everyday shredding services at local shelters. By establishing services at local shelters, the counties provide jobs for the mentally and physically disabled citizens who live there. Both counties contract the shredding services through private companies for between 10 and 25 cents per pound.

Bart Sexton, solid waste administrator for Oneida County, says they began offering the service five years ago when the state passed a law making it illegal to throw away documents containing residents' personal information such as date of birth, social security number, and health care and financial information.

Ken Reiman, director of solid waste for Wood County, says he prefers the daily service provided at the shelter to annual events, even though residents have to pay for the daily service. One-day events can send the wrong message, he says, encouraging people to hoard their recyclable materials all year for one specific date instead of being more responsible and taking care of their recyclables on a regular basis. Reiman shared his memories of the long lines of people that waited in cold weather to get rid of their recyclables at annual events. “Instead of sitting in their running cars for hours and wasting gas, they could have avoided it all by just taking care of their materials on a daily basis,” he says.