If you have a room filled with obsolete documents that are no longer useful, you might like to dispose of them. After all, they have served their original purpose, and removing them can improve efficiency by better utilising your space. 

As long as you are under no legal obligation to store them for a further period of time - something that we have explored in this article on retention periods - you are free to begin the disposal process. But before you hire a van, book your slot at the tip and start loading up the files, you should know that improper disposal can easily compromise the confidentiality of those documents, breaching your GDPR obligation to keep identifiable data secure even when it is being destroyed. As a result, you could accidentally damage your reputation and be charged substantial financial penalties.

To ensure that you fulfil your obligation whilst also disposing of the unnecessary documentation, you have several options available to you. In this blog post, we explore what they are, and which ones would be most suited to your needs.

What are confidential documents in the UK?

According to GDPR, a European Union data protection directive that was implemented in 2018, confidential data is any information that could directly or indirectly identify an individual. Included in the directly identifiable data are things like names, addresses, and medical information, whereas indirectly identifiable data encompasses information such as IP addresses, biometric data, and even cultural or economic factors that, when combined, could lead to the identification of an individual.

How to dispose of confidential documents

As the stakeholder in a public or private organisation who is entrusted to dispose of confidential documents, there are several options available to you. That being said, we have listed the below choices in order of how appropriate they would be to your needs. At the very least, confidential data needs to be unreadable and unretrievable, but effective data management - especially when undertaken by experienced professionals - requires far more than the very least.


Arguably the most sustainable and biologically friendly method of data disposal, composting is the process whereby your documents slowly break down into an unrecognisable mass of organic matter. While it certainly sounds idyllic and green, it also takes a very long time - during which someone equipped with nefarious intentions could steal the data. This method is our least recommended because while it is certainly good for the environment, it is very bad for data security and takes a very long time.

Sustainability score: 10/10
Security score: 3/10
Speed score: 2/10

Overall score: 15/30

fresh compost



A concept often associated with the world of spycraft and files marked ‘Top Secret’ in large red letters, censoring involves a person or team of people using a black marker pen to erase the specific sensitive information in question ready for wholesale disposal. If you have a small stack of documents featuring just one or two instances of confidential data, censoring might be appropriate, but for high-volume disposal, it is simply too time-consuming. Furthermore, you cannot guarantee the longevity of the black marker pen, meaning that what is concealed now could be revealed if dug up or uncovered a couple of years later.

Sustainability score: 8/10
Security score: 7/10
Speed score: 1/10

Overall score: 16/30



When documents meet a temperature of over 1200°C, almost nothing can be recovered except a large pile of ash.  It is, admittedly, a very effective and very quick method of disposing of your confidential data, but it does produce large amounts of CO₂. Today, companies recognise their responsibility to be greener, to do things better, and to positively contribute to sustainability goals, rather than detract from them. Therefore, while incineration offers efficient disposal of confidential data, its environmental impact is simply not viable.

Sustainability score: 2/10
Security score: 9/10
Speed score: 8/10

Overall score: 19/30


Confidential document shredding

The process of mechanically cutting your confidential documents into tiny, unrecognisable pieces is the best option for physical data destruction. It is quick, cost-effective, environmentally friendly (because the process doesn’t produce excess emissions) and - best of all for a security-conscious organisation such as yours - ensures any data that is destroyed remains destroyed. While your domestic shredder might struggle with a high quantity of documents, commercial equipment can dispose of thousands of documents in a matter of moments. 

Sustainability score: 9/10
Security score: 9/10
Speed score: 9/10

Overall score: 27/30

What about digital data disposal?

We live in a digital age. While confidential document shredding is suitable for the piles of physical data that fill your building, you may also need to think about disposing of digital data. Thankfully, most specialists - like ourselves - offer both physical file disposal and IT equipment disposal.

IT equipment disposal (including hard drive degaussing)

When IT equipment such as computers, laptops, mobile phones, printers and scanners reach the end of their lifecycle, it is vital that any sensitive data has been fully removed and cannot be recovered. You might try to do a full wipe with a piece of software, but the next step should always be degaussing. Degaussing exposes IT equipment to a powerful magnetic field, entirely removing data so that it can never be read again. Once this has taken place, the equipment can be recycled, contributing to your green credentials - safe in the knowledge that the data is gone for good.

What if you don’t dispose of confidential documents correctly?

Any business or organisation that handles any personal data has an obligation to destroy that data in a secure manner when it is no longer useful for its original purpose.

You might feel like you can do it yourself, but it is important to remember that failure to do so could result in: 

  • Data breaches;
  • Violation of your legal duties;
  • Loss of trust; and
  • Financial penalties.

What is the solution? Use professionals that you trust

We have been providing clients with efficient, cost-effective, hassle-free, and environmentally friendly document disposal services for more than 20 years. Our document shredding service ensures that you meet your GDPR obligations and allows you to make the best use of your space without causing any disruption to your day-to-day operations. If you would like to know more, get in contact with our team today.