Confidential waste paper – recycling and regulations
The environmental importance of paper recycling cannot be disputed. But when it comes to confidential waste paper, is there a danger that data protection responsibilities are being neglected? Dan Fairest, sales manager of UNTHA UK and confidential waste shredding specialist, spoke to Pulp Paper & Logistics magazine recently, on this very topic. If you missed the resulting article, including his advice for achieving a best practice approach which complies with both the waste hierarchy and the law, you can read it in full here…
“Very few people would contest the importance of waste paper recycling in the UK, even if there is room for improvement when it comes to many individuals’ own domestic or commercial approach to this activity. But when waste paper contains confidential or potentially sensitive information, there is no room for error. An organisation’s legal responsibility to proficiently handle such materials is strictly regulated under the Data Protection Act 1998, and any breaches of the DPA can lead to fines of up to £500,000 being imposed by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The recycling landscape therefore becomes much more complex when handling materials of this nature. Of course the waste hierarchy should be observed and, where possible, the material fibre preserved to optimise the recyclate quality of the paper concerned. But there is also a pressing need to securely destroy any information that could risk breaching data protection laws. This isn’t just the case for confidential paperwork – packaging labels containing recipient details, bank notes, postage stamps, branded packaging and cheques all fall under the same umbrella.
So how exactly should the process be handled? On-site incineration is one option, but this contradicts the waste hierarchy and the moral obligation to retain the value of an important resource.
The services of a confidential waste destruction specialist therefore provides one helpful alternative. A reputable BSEN15713-accredited contractor should be sought, and additional due diligence should be carried out to ensure the chosen supplier has proven experience and independently certified equipment that is up to the challenge.
Such contractors offer on-site services, using a mobile confidential waste shredder, to ensure materials are proficiently destroyed before they leave the customer’s site. Whilst typically a fairly expensive solution, this does give utmost peace of mind that data protection obligations are immediately upheld, under that customer’s supervision.
A more cost effective alternative is to use a contractor’s off-site destruction service. This saves money but is potentially riskier. Confidential materials are then in the hands of a third party and, however trustworthy they may be, highway accidents cannot be prevented. If the waste truck was involved in a collision for instance, sensitive documents could spill onto the road. Given the data remains the customer’s responsibility until the materials reach the contractor’s depot, this does pose a concern for some organisations.
This explains why some businesses invest in their own confidential waste processing technologies, which they run themselves on their site. Of course this requires upfront capital investment, unless the cost of shredding equipment is spread with a lease agreement. However this solution does provide unparalleled ownership of the data destruction process, and therefore utmost peace of mind.
In terms of the best-fit shredding solution for confidential waste, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer. Much depends on factors such as the sensitivity of the material, the volume of waste being shredded, desired throughputs and budget.
The organisation wishing to purchase or lease the shredder should therefore devise a list of criteria that can be discussed in detail with one or two shredding manufacturers. The suppliers’ advice and guidance should of course be sought, but it is important not to be swayed from these procurement drivers.
In terms of things to look for when choosing appropriate technology, our advice is multi-faceted.
Given the complex nature of this specialist field, it is important that the supplier demonstrates proven experience, and that their machinery is independently certified in accordance with DIN 66399.
There are a number of shredding options in the marketplace. I believe low maintenance four shaft contra-shear cutting systems offer the most proficient solution. Rather than ripping the paper, as faster single shaft shredders do, this technology carefully cuts the material, thus preserving the fibre and maximising the recycling revenue potential. Four shaft machines also ‘mix’ the particles as they shred, which offers increased security when compared to two shaft shredders that simply produce strips. A screen provides added quality control, as it helps produce a defined and homogenous particle size. This upholds data protection responsibilities whilst maximising the recyclate value of the material.
The smaller the particle size, the greater the risk that the quality and value of the recyclate is compromised. However, if handling very high-security information, this may be necessary. In some instances, it is possible to blend the particles with larger fraction, or it may be that the production of briquettes for fuel or animal bedding, is the most suitable use of the resulting material. At least some resource value is still being retained. Unfortunately there is no such solution for particles of ≤6mm.
Savvy waste handlers will seek additional benefits from any technological investment too. It is therefore worth noting that high torque, slow speed machines are more energy efficient than single shaft shredders running at higher revs-per-minute, plus they operate at quieter dB(A) noise levels and present less of a fire risk. This is because they don’t generate as much dust – a common problem when shredding paper – and given they have a lower tip speed, the potential for a spark is also reduced.
What happens to the material once shredded, is then up to the company concerned. If the confidential data has been adequately destroyed, the paper is now just a standard material which can be recycled in the most appropriate manner moving forward.
The particles could be dropped straight into a compactor, which keeps everything neat and tidy. A light indicates when the compactor is ready to be emptied, and the material can be collected for recycling. However, the highest revenues can be achieved when the shredded paper is baled. Specialist handling equipment is required of course, but if revenue is a priority this investment may be justified.
Everything depends on the scenario each particular business faces – this will dictate what particle size the paper must be shredded down to, and whether security obligations, profit margins or waste hierarchy compliance becomes the most important factor. With some clever thinking though, there’s no reason why every box cannot be ticked.
If you’d like to discuss your confidential paper shredding requirements with Dan or another member of the UNTHA UK team, please contact us on 0845 450 5388 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.