News that a number of local councils in the UK are refusing to collect shredded paper for disposal and claims that it "causes a nuisance" have done little to encourage consumers to shred their confidential and personal information for fear of ID fraud.
It also doesn’t inspire much confidence in the environmental respectability of the councils in question.
Assistant director for environmental maintenance at Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC), Robert Bell, said: "The recycling processors will not accept shredded paper as it tends to clog the machinery. In addition, shredded paper becomes windblown when hoisted into the collection vehicle and creates a litter problem in residential streets."
And CBC is not alone in its stance toward the evils of shredded paper. Other councils, including Devon, Northamptonshire, Hampshire and Surrey, all refuse to collect this type of waste.
Not so helpful advice from these councils has included alternative measures, such as adding shredder waste to compost heaps or to garden and kitchen waste refuse sacks. While these may appear logical suggestions, a compost heap, for example, is not a practical solution for all residents.
But not all councils are shredder-unfriendly. Swansea City Council says that it’s more than happy to take shredded paper in its recycling collections.
A council spokesman told OPI: "In the Green Kerbside collection bags, we collect newspapers, magazines, junk mail, telephone books, Yellow Pages and white paper such as personal letters, old envelopes and printer paper.
"Most people very sensibly shred any personal letters and there is no problem in putting this material into the bag. The contractor that we use is more than happy to accept this. We only ask that all paper, whichever kind, is in a bag on its own to prevent contamination and subsequent rejection of the load."
It is ironic that the confusion surrounding councils’ collection policies comes at a time when governments themselves, as well as many other organisations, are urging people to shred documents containing sensitive information to avoid ID theft.
Research conducted in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany on behalf of Fellowes found that a huge number of businesses and individuals are effectively "throwing their identities in the bin". In the UK in particular, a staggering 97 percent of households throw away sensitive information, according to the report.
And at no other time is the problem more acute than at this time of the year, Fellowes asserts, when people are so busy with Christmas preparations and purchases that they simply forget to take adequate steps to protect their personal information properly.
Tyron Hill, European marketing director at Fellowes Europe, said: "People are excited about the holidays and simply forget to take vital precautions. They throw away envelopes, cards, receipts – all the wrong things that should be shredded to avoid your personal details getting into the wrong hands."
And it’s not just individuals who are reckless with their details. According to credit reference agency Experian, in 2002, 94 percent of businesses threw out documents containing names and addresses, 61 percent had thrown away signed documents and 20 percent had thrown out bank details.
The potential repercussions of these statistics are enormous. If retailers fail to adequately dispose of their records, for example, they risk subjecting customer details to the dangers of identity fraudsters. Retailers keep vast amounts of customer information including credit card details. Should this information go astray, the fall-out would be staggering.
Employment fraud is another issue. Fraudsters may seek employment while illegally posing as other people once they have found out details such as national insurance or social security numbers.
Christmas may be a prime season to become a victim of ID fraud. But it’s clearly also a time when shredders are heavily marketed – perhaps making the perfect gift for someone. Fellowes certainly is trying to claim its share of the UK home shredding market and is busy promoting its shredders designed for domestic use.
And there’s no doubt, with identity fraud growing at a rate of 165 percent a year and at a cost of £1.7 billion ($3.2 billion), according to the latest Home Office estimates, sales of shredders are on the up. Last year, supermarket giant Tesco was said to have been selling as many as 10,000 shredders a month in the UK.
It is doubtful whether anybody is actually deterred from using a shredder in the home because the local council won’t help recycle the waste. But it certainly doesn’t help – the environment or users trying to combat ID fraud.