Utah Department of Administrative Services

Division of Archives & Records Service

How To Destroy Obsolete Records

Very few of Utah's laws require that obsolete records be destroyed or how they are to be destroyed. In fact, it is all too common for agencies to retain quantities of records that have outlived their minimum retention period and have no further use. It is up to the agency, on its own initiative, to carry out disposition, once the legal retention requirements have been satisfied. Agencies that store their records at the State Records Center will have their records destroyed for them, when disposition has been met and destruction approved. When retention requirements have been fulfilled and the agency decides to dispose of obsolete records in their office, the following questions should be asked before determining which method to use:

  1. What is the volume of records to be destroyed?
  2. Are the records uniform in size and substance or do they vary?
  3. Do the records contain private personal information?
  4. Is a bonded vendor available for the destruction of confidential records?
  5. What type of destruction is best suited for the task?
  6. Will there be so much waste that removal will be a problem?

The proper destruction of public records is essential to creating a credible records management program. Haphazardly destroyed records can erode public confidence in any governmental program. An agency has the following four destruction options:

Recycling

Private companies in many areas of Utah will pay for scrap paper. Some will pick up large quantities of paper from the seller's premises. However, the custodian in charge of destroying the records must be certain that safeguards exist to prevent the accidental or deliberate misuse of records disposed of in this manner. Currently, all local recycling companies sell their scrap paper to out-of-state firms. Three questions should be asked before using a recycling company:

1. Is the company bonded should there be a problem and legal action needs to be filed?
2. Will the company issue a certificate of destruction for each pickup of records?
3. What is the company's method of destruction? Will the records be shredded locally or sold intact to out-of-state companies?

Shredding

Both paper and microfilm can be shredded and the waste product then recycled. According to federal standards, records must be shredded to 3/16 of an inch or less, to guarantee they cannot be reassembled. This form of disposal provides maximum security for confidential documents, but is very time consuming. It is only recommended for the most confidential files.

Incineration

The burning of records is usually the easiest and most efficient method of destruction. The agency should consider environmental protection laws and determine whether records will be destroyed totally.

Landfill

The burial of records in landfills, especially for records of a confidential nature is unacceptable as a means of destruction. Recent studies have shown that paper placed in landfills for twenty years have remained intact and have not disintegrated. It is far too easy to have documents exposed by scavengers or the wind.