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7 Ways to Dispose of Confidential Documents Without a Shredder

7 Ways to Dispose of Confidential Documents Without a Shredder

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My wife and I have each had our identities stolen recently, so keeping our personal information private has become a priority for us. In both of our cases, the identity theft was due to national breaches.

However, that still put a spotlight on how easily information can get in the wrong hands.

Growing up, my parents always used a paper shredder to shred their sensitive information. We’ve done the same in our household, but after burning out the motor on a couple of shredders, we’ve had to find alternatives to get us by.

We’re simply not willing to shell out over $100 for a decent at-home shredder that can’t handle the volume we’d like to throw at it.

7 Ways to Dispose of Confidential Documents Without a Shredder

If you don’t have a shredder at home, don’t worry; you can still get rid of confidential documents without one. In this article, I’ll show you several alternative ways to safely dispose of your confidential and private documents, without using a shredder.

What Is the Purpose of Shredding Documents?

Shredded Paper

Before we look at the various ways to dispose of documents without using a shredder, it’s important that we cover the basic reasons for shredding documents in the first place.

After all, if the alternatives don’t provide the same level of protection from identity theft, are they really alternatives at all?

The main reason to shred your documents is to protect the information that’s printed on them. With that being said, shredding doesn’t necessarily prevent the information from getting into the wrong hands.

Types of Shredders

There are two basic types of shredding: strip cut and crosscut. Strip cut shredding cuts each paper in one direction, creating long strips of paper, while crosscut cuts in both directions, cutting each strip into multiple pieces.

While crosscut shredders provide more security, they also produce more volume (fills your bin more quickly) and typically require more maintenance (regular oiling). Both methods have drawbacks, which lead many people to choose one of the alternatives listed below.

One last point to mention about shredding is that it’s not foolproof. Software can aid in “unshredding” documents, meaning someone doesn’t actually have to sit at a desk putting thousands of pieces of paper together manually to obtain your info.

The higher the security level of a shredder, as well as the higher the volume of shredded documents, the longer it takes for this method to work.

As far as the types of documents you should be concerned about, look for anything with personally identifiable information (PII). This could be your name, address, phone number, social security number, credit card, account number, and more.

Signing a Document

Anything that has information that can lead back to you should ideally be disposed of in a secure manner, whether that means shredding or an alternative method.

It’s also a good idea to take some extra steps to prevent mail from being stolen before you get to it.

How to Dispose of Documents Without a Shredder

Now that we understand the main benefit of shredding, let’s go over various methods to dispose of our documents when we don’t have a shredder at home.

1 – Shred Them by Hand

The first method, which also happens to be the most labor intensive, is to shred your documents by hand. Not only is this laborious, but it’s not likely to be nearly as secure as the other methods. However, it is simple to do and doesn’t require anything but your hands and a little effort.

When shredding by hand, make sure to tear the sensitive parts of the documents into multiple pieces. Also, I highly recommend disposing of the various shredded pieces in different trash or recycle bins.

By doing this, there is less of a chance of someone finding all of the pieces of a particular document if they happen to get access to your trash or recycling bin.

I’ve used this method in the past for credit cards, but I always make sure that I put the various pieces of each card in different trash bins that will end up going out at different times (one in the kitchen trash, one in the bathroom, etc.).

2 – Burn Them

Fire Pit

If allowed in your area, a simple option for disposing of sensitive documents without a shredder is to burn them in a fire pit. Prior to burning your documents, you’ll still want to tear them into smaller pieces and feed them into the fire a little at a time to avoid a large piece flying off mostly intact.

Once the fire is put out, you’ll also want to make sure you break up the ashes really well, just in case there are some readable pieces of paper remaining in the pit.

3 – Add Them to Your Compost

A more eco-friendly approach to getting rid of documents without a shredder is to compost them along with your coffee, filters, and food. Paper will break down just fine in your compost pile and provides carbon to aid in the carbon to nitrogen balance.

Like the burning method above, you’ll get the best results when breaking your paper down into tiny pieces first. You’ll then want to slowly work the paper pieces into your compost. Doing too much at once can upset the balance of carbon and nitrogen.

When composting paper, make sure it is suitable for composting. Avoid composting paper that might contain high levels of toxic chemicals, like glossy paper.

4 – Use Multi-Cut Scissors

For a simple and relatively inexpensive way to mimic a shredding machine, consider using multi-cut scissors. These shredding scissors make multiple cuts at once, effectively working as a manual shredder.

Multi-cut scissors function similarly to strip cut shredders, so they don’t provide as much security as a crosscut shredder. Consider using these scissors as a first step combined with one of the other methods mentioned in this article.

5 – Soak Them in Water

Another simple method for disposing of confidential papers is to simply soak them in water. This method does take some patience, but can be pretty effective when done properly.

To make your documents unreadable, simply let them soak for at least 24 hours in a bucket of water. After soaking, mix the paper-water solution thoroughly to break up the paper. Ideally, use a paint mixer attachment with a drill.

Some people try to speed up the process by using chemicals, like bleach, but this isn’t necessary. With enough patience, water should do the job on its own.

When done, drain the water somewhere outside in your yard, then dispose of the remaining paper pulp.

6 – Wait for a Local Shred Day

Box of Shredded Paper

Many local businesses provide “shred days” as a service for local customers. Check with your bank, credit union, or recycling company to see if they offer shredding services on certain days of the year.

This service is typically provided for free, so if you’re willing to store your sensitive documents for long periods of time, it might be a good option for you to consider.

Using an outside shredding service is also beneficial because they typically provide a higher level of shredding. Not only will they shred your documents into smaller pieces, but they will mix them in larger batches than you would at home, making it even more difficult to “unshred.”

7 – Use a Local Paper Shredding Service

Just because you don’t have a shredder at home doesn’t mean you can’t securely shred your documents. An easy alternative to shredding at home is to use a local paper shredding service.

Check with your local UPS Store or FedEx to see if they provide this service. There are many recycle centers that will do this for you as well.

Many of these facilities offer this service for a small rate per pound, which can end up being more cost effective than a home shredder, depending on the volume that you need to shred.

How to Cut Down on Paper Shredding (or Paper Disposal in General)

One thing that I’m guilty of when it comes to shredding or disposing of sensitive documents is that I’ve always shredded the entire document. An easy way to cut down on the total volume of documents is to simply cut out the parts of each document that contain sensitive data. This way you can shred or dispose of only those pieces.

Most sensitive documents contain a lot of legal jargon that has no reference to you personally. On these types of documents, just cut out the parts with your personal information. For everything else, you can simply recycle them with your other recyclables.

Even better than the method above is to go digital whenever possible. Most financial services now offer electronic statements, and you shouldn’t have much trouble getting your various bills in a paperless format.

Even our local grocery store now offers a digital-only version for receipts. This is easily the best option to cut down on the need to dispose of sensitive documents.

Final Thoughts

While shredding your documents at home provides an easy and convenient way to make it harder for criminals to gain access to your private and personal information, you do have alternative methods to get the job done.

Whether you choose to use a local shredding service or go with an alternative to shredding altogether, you’re reducing the likelihood of getting your identity stolen. And speaking from experience, that’s not something you want to deal with.

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Thursday 6th of October 2022

Hi Jeff, this is very helpful. Thanks. Any suggestions how to destroy a lot of steno pads (spiral notebooks) that have some confidential information written in them?


Friday 14th of October 2022

Hi FK, sorry for the delay. If you have a lot of steno pads and don't want to go through the trouble of removing the spiral binding, your best option is likely going to be a local shredding service. Many of these services will shred these for you, without requiring you to remove the binding.

Natalie LaBerge

Saturday 11th of September 2021

This article appears to be designed to promote UPS and FedEx, companies that only offer off-site shredding and are not certified by the National Association of Information Destruction.


Sunday 6th of June 2021

Hi Jeff, just wanted to say thanks for the article, I wish I'd read it before fruitlessly scouring the web for succinct info on the water method. I have this by default as I left a load of bin bags in the back garden waiting to be dealt with, then forgot about them - they got rained on a lot! Then dried out and. So if you have the time, it works! there's no way to separate the sheets. Cheers.


Tuesday 8th of June 2021

Hi Flipper, thanks for sharing your story! You're right that time plays a big role in the effectiveness of the water method.

Maryam Nasiruddin

Saturday 24th of April 2021

I simply tear papers in half and put them in my regular trash which contains garbage, dog waste (when I walk my dog at night, I go across the street as I live in the woods) collect her waste in a doggie bag and put in my trash can. I’m pretty sure once this gets mixed in with all the other community trash, if anyone is ambitious enough to go through all that mess, be my guest. If you go online to the waste management facility in your township you will see what is done with your trash , it’s disposal and separation, I’m pretty sure this will convince you to just put those papers in the trash.


Saturday 3rd of April 2021

Hi George

Great article and a good tip about not shredding pages or areas of the page that don't contain PII. I'm currently in process of shredding documents from 1994 to 2015. I'd recommend saving the last five years of at least bank statements. My Mom went on medicaid last year and they have a five year look back audit.

I understand doing documents with pay, savings, or spending information such as bank, 401k, or credit card statements. Is it critical to shred utility bills i.e. oil, electric, and phone bills? Although it has name and address and an account, these would most likely land in a landfill and if somebody did find them, I don't see how they would steal your identity or pertinent financial data with those.

Thanks. Bob