Why Choose a Paper Shredding Service?
The top performers in our review are Iron Mountain, the Gold Award winner; Shred Nations, the Silver Award winner; and Recall, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 services.
Paper shredding is required by law for many industries, including medical, legal and government agencies. These companies are required to keep client information secure and maintain a paper trail of how sensitive documents have been stored and destroyed. These companies are often subjected to audits to ensure compliance to both federal and state regulations, including HIPAA (for medical facilities), FACTA (companies dealing with personal or business credit), GLA (for bank and other financial institutions), and GSA (government organizations).
While comparing paper shredding companies, it is important to choose one that is compliant with the National Association for Information Destruction, or NAID. This means the company has been certified to follow all required safety procedures and provides you with a certificate of destruction that serves as proof of compliance should your company ever be audited. Additional NAID requirements include how documents are transported and stored, the turnaround time from when your paper is picked up until it is shredded, and the particle size for certain documents. All employees of NAID certified facilities must go through a thorough background check before being hired and pass a specified training that includes knowledge of federal, state and local regulations.
NAID agents audit each paper shredding facility at least once each year to ensure compliance. These agents are selected within the facilities' home state since they are more knowledgeable about state laws in addition to federal regulations.
All of the services we reviewed are NAID certified.
Determine Your Paper Shredding Needs
Paper shredding services focus on the destruction of documents that typically contain sensitive client or employee information or company trade secrets. If you have a home office or a small amount of non-sensitive material to shred, you can purchase a paper shredder to use yourself. There are several options that we've reviewed that range in price, size and volume of shredding.
Some companies have other materials that need to be properly disposed of, such as toxic waste from medical facilities. These need to be disposed of by a waste management facility, some of which we have reviewed.
Document shredding is only one part of a full document management process. Some document management solutions we've reviewed offer additional services, such as document scanning and digital archiving. However, our top-ranking paper shredding services also offer these services, so you may not have to employee a separate facility in order to meet these needs.
For more help in determining when you may need a paper shredding service or how to decide which service is right for you, we have several articles on document destruction. Our sister sites, Live Science and Business News Daily, also have hints on how to further protect your documents from identity theft and to determine the overall security of paper shredding.
What We Discovered While Reviewing Paper Shredding Services
While reviewing paper shredding services, we looked at the price of the service; the security of the documents before, during and after destruction; the size of the shred particles; the options available to the customer to help make the shredding process more easy; and any additional services provided, including document management and the destruction of other materials beyond paper.
We contacted each of the services and received a price quote using our own location. We requested quotes for a standard console size of 64 gallons, which is similar to a garbage can. We also requested a quote for a weekly pick-up service and a one-time purge. While your individual business needs will likely result in a different quote, the representative pricing gives you an idea of the price range between services. In addition to the service fee, both Iron Mountain and Shred-it tack on an additional fuel surcharge. Recall charges a fuel charge as well but includes it in the overall price quote rather than separating it out as an additional, mandatory charge.
Most security measures are dictated by the NAID and must be strictly adhered to in order to retain certification. All of our top ten paper shredding services are NAID certified, but some take additional steps to make their facilities and services a little more secure.
When you are looking for a shredding service, an important security factor to consider is ensuring no one sees the documents you are shredding. Consoles provided to your building should be locked and have a unique security code, known as a serial number log, to help track the box and its contents throughout the shredding process. Each service differs on who is provided a key to your console. National Shred Alliance provides you with one key in case you accidentally place a document in the container and need to retrieve it. Iron Mountain, however, doesn't leave a key onsite. Instead, you have to call and schedule an emergency rescue. A certified and trained employee will come to your office with your console key to open it up for you to retrieve the document.
Every service that is NAID certified must provide a chain of custody, a document showing who has had access to your console and contents from the time it is picked up from your office until it is shredded. This document often accompanies the certificate of destruction, which is also required by NAID-certified shredding companies. Since each of the services we received are NAID certified, each provides these documents to you.
The unique exception is Ship 'n' Shred. This service doesn't provide a locked console to your building. Instead, you bring your documents to a Ship 'n' Shred location where your boxed documents are labeled with a unique barcode that is scanned and traced from the time you drop it off until it arrives at a Shred Nations facility. Ship 'n' Shred doesn't have shredding facilities of its own; instead, it is part of the Shred Nations family that takes care of the document destruction while Ship 'n' Shred acts as the drop-off point. Because it can be easily tracked, Ship 'n' Shred is able to provide you with a certificate of destruction and are therefore NAID certified.
Both FedEx and Office Depot provide paper shredding services, and we reviewed them as part of our testing process; however, they merely collect the paper and keep it safe within a locked console until it is full. At this point, the contents are either picked up by or shipped to Iron Mountain, our top-ranked document shredding service, for shredding and recycling. Even though Iron Mountain is NAID certified, neither FedEx nor Office Depot are and therefore cannot provide a certificate of destruction, which is required if your company is ever audited for compliance. However, if you have a home-based business that has documents that don't require specific destruction methods or proof of destruction, you can bring your paper into either FedEx or Office Depot for shredding.
The size of the shredded paper is also important for security reasons. The smaller the pieces after shredding, the less likely it will be able to be pieced back together or to have readable text on the final pieces. The Deutsche Industrial Norm, or DIN, is an international standard for destruction. DIN 32 757 specifies the various shred levels that correspond to the size of the shred. Level 1 refers to any shred under 1/2 inch wide. Level 2 is under 1/4 inch wide. Both of these levels are strips and are not very secure.
Cross-shredding is more secure than strip cutting since your documents are shredded so small and in inconsistent shapes that it would be impossible for an identity thief to piece them together in order to snatch sensitive information. Levels 3, 4 and 5 are all achieved using crosscut shredders. A Level 3 is considered a medium shred, though not small enough for unclassified government documents. These require at least a Level 4, where the particles measure 3/32 x 5/8 inch or less. A Level 4 is the minimum required for compliance with HIPAA, FACTA and other document-security laws.
Government documents require an even smaller shred if it is a classified document, but only specific facilities are Level 6 certified and are able to handle these types of documents. These specialty facilities are listed on the National Security Agency's (NSA) website and are typically located close to government facilities. None of the services we reviewed are approved for classified government document shredding.
Each of the services on our comparison provide cross-shredding, though the final size of the shred varies. We did contact each facility and asked about the size of the final paper after it is shredded. These sizes varied between 1/5 and 5/8 of an inch, though because of the crosscut, are in compliance with NAID and DIN standards.
What We Measured: A Look At Our Testing Methodology
Iron Mountain didn't give us a specific size of the final paper shred. Instead, it indicated the final shredded pieces would be smaller than a piece of confetti. We were curious how small that would be, and since data security laws prohibit us from being able to handle document particles without proper training and clearances, we purchased a bag confetti to find out. We ensured that we bought confetti and not sequence, or party décor that looks like confetti cut into specialty shapes. We also avoided glitter. We took a tablespoon from the 1.5 oz. bag and separated out the largest pieces. We measured these and found that the average size was roughly about half a centimeter, or 1/4 inch. While it is possible that pieces are shredded much smaller than this, this is the largest any piece of paper will be shredded to by Iron Mountain. This is small enough to not be able to refit pieces together and is difficult to read any text that may be visible. It is also smaller than the required 5/8 inch for Security Level 4. Since both FedEx and Office Depot ship documents to Iron Mountain for destruction, you can expect your papers to be shredded to this same size, but you still won't receive the documentation for any potential audits.
All of the document-destruction services we reviewed recycle the paper shreds after they are cut. This further ensures confidential information is completely unrecoverable but also helps protect the environment since recycled paper is made into new paper products, eliminating the need to cut down more trees.
We focused on services that have a national presence, though there are several facilities that are locally based. Two services on our comparison have a smaller scope. Shred Connect services southern California with a small service area in Arizona. Likewise, Gilmore Service is located in Florida but has a service area that reaches into parts of Georgia and Alabama. Both of these companies offer excellent paper destruction services and are NAID certified. They are simply limited in the area they serve.
Most of the paper shredding companies we compared have both onsite and offsite paper shredding options. Offsite service is when your consoles are picked up, emptied into a truck and transported to a secure facility for shredding. As part of the annual check, NAID agents within each individual state inspect the facility and audit procedures to ensure both state and federal requirements are being met. The frequency of when your material is picked up varies, though most work on a weekly or monthly basis. Some companies have drop-off services available, so you can bring your sensitive material directly to the facility and bypass the pickup service.
Onsite document shredding brings the shredder to you within the service truck. Your console is emptied into the truck and immediately shredded while you watch. The biggest difference between the two services is generally the cost. The same line of custody and certificate of destruction are provided to prove compliance for both you and the paper shredding service.
While assessing paper shredding service support, we discovered that some businesses provide information to help companies optimize document security. Shred-it provides a security-risk assessment to help you determine who should have access to the documents, where the best place is in your office for the console, which documents should be shredded, and if any records should be digitalized and stored before being destroyed. PROSHRED has a blog that provides a valuable knowledgebase, informing clients of changes to destruction laws, popular trends and other tips for minimizing your risk of identity theft. Both of these services are offered by our top paper shredding services.
More Than Just Document Destruction
Paper shredding is only one part of the document management process. All companies have need for filing, archiving and securing documents, with many moving to digital records and storage. There are document management services available that help create digital copies of your paper records, and cloud-based storage is available so you can free up space in your office by eliminating the paper files. However, several of the paper shredding services we tested also provide document imaging and both physical and electronic archives of your documents. Gilmore Services is one company that has both physical and cloud-based storage for both physical and digital files.
The best paper shredding companies offer services beyond destroying documents. Media and hard drive destruction are important services to look for if your company stores a lot of sensitive material in digital formats. Also, some companies, such as American Shredding, are equipped to handle destruction of prototypes, product samples and other sensitive material that you don't want landing into the hands of your competitors.
Our Final Word & Recommendations
When legal compliance is on the line, it’s important to find a service you can trust with your sensitive documents. Each of the services we reviewed is NAID compliant, so each ensures your documents are destroyed according to HIPAA, FACTA, GLA or GSA policies. Our top-ranked services, Iron Mountain, Shred Nations and Recall, offer additional destruction services for media, hard drives and prototypes in addition to paper, though it costs extra. These companies, in addition to Gilmore Services, also provide additional document management services, including document imaging and records archives for both physical and electronic files.
While each of the services we reviewed has a service area that reaches beyond its local town, Gilmore Services and Shred Connect have limited their areas to some surrounding areas that may extend into a neighboring state.
Each of the services we reviewed has a minimum of a Level 4 shred size, meaning that anything other than classified government documents can be safely shredded small enough to be unable to piece back together. All services also recycle the particles, providing an extra level of security and healing the environment.
As long as the service is NAID certified, both onsite and offsite shredding is secure and you will be provided with a certificate of destruction for your own records in case you are ever audited. If you don't need a secure document shredding facility, you can take advantage of either FedEx or Office Depot's shredding services, though it requires you to bring your documents to the store rather than the convenience of having the paper picked up from your office.