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Anne Hailes: How can I dispose of my private papers without them ending up in the wrong hands?

On the way to destruction

I PHONED the City Hall, got through to waste management, simple query. If I have a lot of private material, papers, records etc can you burn them for me? No. Can you shred them? No. Can you safely dispose of them? No.

Pity, especially as carelessness means sensitive papers can turn up in a desk drawer in a charity shop. This happened last week, with strictly confidential documents relating to Belfast Health Trust discovered by a member of the public who purchased the desk and got more than he bargained for.

Details of private telephone numbers, minutes of meetings, employees salaries, information back to 2012. There were also details of failures in one particularly hospital ward. It's a disaster for the Trust that was fined £225,000 15 years ago; in that case patient records were found at the abandoned Belvoir Park Hospital. My material was small beer compared to that.

WHAT'S THE ANSWER?

I was relating this story to a friend, a physiotherapist who has to safely dispose of old records on a regular basis. Advice please?

"No problem," she said, "Shredbank." The answer to a maiden's prayer and a suggestion to Big Business who may not have heard of this answer.

Shredbank, which is based in Carryduff, was established in 2007 by two men, James Carson and Philip Bain. They had grown up together but lost contact.

When by chance they met again talk got round to exploring the thought of going into business and they came up with a great entrepreneurial idea to counter such carelessness as the files in the desk, papers being found on a train, spies going through bins and skips and often sensitive material being stolen and used illegally.

It was in the news and gave them the idea of developing travelling units to shred bulk bundles of paper. The idea took off and now Shredbank is a leading on-site document shredding company.

"We specialise in confidential document destruction services to organisations and individuals throughout Northern Ireland," Philip told me.

"We shred everything at your premises using mobile shredding trucks giving you complete security and peace of mind. We can provide you with a regular scheduled service or a one-off clear-out service, depending on your requirements.

"All the shredded material is baled and recycled into tissue products such as kitchen and toilet rolls and so helps to protect our environment."

Often clients want to be sure the destruction is total so they are invited to watch as their documents enter the state of the art trucks and into the shredding machine.

They are issued with a certificate of destruction, the appropriate waste transfer notes and, for scheduled clients, annual environmental certificates estimating how many trees have been saved.

Schedules are complex, regular customers maybe requiring twice weekly service, perhaps every month or whatever is needed; there are Coleraine days to Derry days and all in between. The trained drivers are often required to lift 500 boxes, maybe climb five flights of stairs, or venture down twisty entries to lift a dozen pallets.

Another aspect of Shredbank is the locked secure boxes placed in offices. These units have a bag inside and papers destined to be shredded are posted into the box, the client holding one key and the shredding representative the other. When required a driver will arrive, unlock the box remove the bag and take it to the shredding van and destroy it on the spot. A dedicated employee can go with their material to watch it being shredded.

In this day and age of 'hot desking', never knowing where you will be sitting from one day to another, and a clear desk policy is required, so this box takes care of all surplus pages, bulky diaries or files.

A lot is up to the office manager to decide what is standard waste and what is sensitive, a matter of doing the 'bin test' - is it confidential, personal, sensitive or just standard office waste, fit for the waste paper basket? But make sure what's what, there's no going back after visiting the shredder.

That's Big Business looked after.

But what about someone like me?

In Belfast all I have to do is go along to Forestside Shopping Centre on the last Friday of the month between noon and 2pm and join the Shredathon.

It sounds like a bit of a party, with regulars meeting up, their bundles under their arms. In the beginning only one or two people came along but more recently 40-plus arrive with their papers and watch them being eaten by the mobile shredder.

There is no charge for this service although the public is invited to make a voluntary donation which goes to Alzheimer's Research and thousands of pounds have been collected in recent years.

This award-winning company is the masterstroke of two lifelong friends who had lost touch, met and their combined experience of sales and marketing, operations and logistics and their meeting of minds resulted in a simple concept to eliminate the risk of precious papers falling into the wrong hands.

Now they have 20 members of staff, state of the art IT, their service stretches all over Northern Ireland and has the largest such fleet.

To give you an idea of cost, roughly 20 boxes will be around £100. Prices depend and are available by phoning 0800 6335599. More at shredbank.co.uk.

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