Bury, don't shred your documents

Discuss

155 Responses to “Bury, don't shred your documents”

  1. Anonymous says:

    i burn all of my documents…burn baby burn…

  2. Anonymous says:

    I bet they’ll be unchanged whenever you dig them up. It’s too dry there. In Seattle, or Louisiana, the papers would probably rot quickly.

    Are there woodlice in LA? They’re crustaceans, so need a moist environment, and will eat paper. Silverfish eat paper too, and also like humidity.

    I think I’d remove some of the dirt covering the papers, add some potato peels to the hole, cover the hole with a piece of wood or a slab of stone propped up on one side by an inch or or so to provide shade, and keep the area under the cover moist.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have always wanted to do this, not for the decomposition factor. I’m hoping to bury some stuff, not have it decompose, but have some future civilization uncover it, and marvel (or laugh), at whatever is contained therein!

  4. retrojoe says:

    And now I just Google “Mark Frauenfelder”+address, a quick trip to the hardware store for a shovel…

  5. Jack says:

    Interesting experiment. How often will there be updates?

    Also, any reason why water or—dare I say—urine wasn’t sprayed on top of the documents? If anything that could help speed up the process… Or at least make one feel like a peeing Calvin!

  6. max says:

    why not just burn them?

  7. Anonymous says:

    As an historian, I say “Thank you!!!!” Your stuff will last a very long time under those conditions. Which is great for historians!!! no one else helps us, so thank you.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I wonder how long it takes to decompose? I got lost of pirates looking for buried treasure in my backyard…

  9. jkmt says:

    when i’ve used paper for composting, worm bedding or making new paper it always works better when i shred it first. oh well…

  10. merreborn says:

    While this wins in terms of cost and effort, it loses in terms of speed.

    A good shredder will mow through 52 pounds of paper in the time it takes the SWAT team to reach your corner office; buried paper will probably still be there for the SEC to dig up a week after your high-profile arrest.

  11. Berk says:

    I dunno, but that ground looks fairly dry, so I’m not sure composting will happen quickly, if at all (as far as I’m aware, compost usually requires some moisture to work, and open-ness to air, so stuff can eat your waste.

    What you’ve done there, as far as I can see, is buried stuff in a hole that’ll probably protect the pages to some degree, rather than destroying them, at least until winter/it rains a great deal.

    Curious to see how it works out, but it’s basically useless without a couple of controls (i’d say paper on surface and paper in actual proper compost heap)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Next time, wet then down (better yet, into a pale of water and let them soak) mix the wet paper with coffee grounds, fruit peels, sandwich ends (no meat)) etc, that’s left in the break room. Layer that with dirt as you bury it. Don’t tamp it down, leave it mounded.

    Hint – decomposing broccoli and bananas emit gases that say, ‘come eat me’ to the kind of microbes you want to eat that paper.

  13. lostalaska says:

    I now have the urge to make a short film that looks like the scene from Goodfellas(?) where instead of two gangsters it’s two bank execs out in the woods in the middle of the night with a cars headlights shining on them as they dig a hole, every so often one of the guys will start gagging like he’s about to throw up and then talks about how he never got into the business expecting to have to do these kinds of things. After a bit of dialog the camera will pan down to the hole with all the paperwork in at as they start to push the dirt back into the hole.

  14. DeeZed says:

    That soil looks pretty dry and worm/bug free. I think it will be many decades before those papers start to decay.

    • Joergen Geerds says:

      “That soil looks pretty dry and worm/bug free. I think it will be many decades before those papers start to decay.”

      I totally agree, this will be fine for years in this state… if anything, I would have added/mixed in a bucket of wet compost, and then planted a tree or a shrub, to further the decomposition… or at least seed it with some fungi who love cellulose substrates.

  15. skeletoncityrepeater says:

    I’m not sure that dirt and paper alone are enough to reach compost levels of temperature. It seems like years could pass before the documents become secure. From my calculation based on 1 pound per 100 sheets, and a conservative 5 sheets a minute in a shredder (while you could be doing something else) shredding 50 pounds of documents would take a day or two of casual feeding and throwing away shreds. I see paper in gutters and embankments just sitting there, still completely readable after months of wind, rain and dirt.

  16. WhyBother says:

    In the absence of air, it takes paper a surprisingly long time to decompose. He better hope he has good rain and cheap ink.

    • kjulig says:

      He’s in Southern California, so…

      It may have been somewhat secure (by obscurity) before he told the world that there are intact, sensitive documents buried at his place for at least the next couple years.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Why not burn it? Paper buried in dry ground like that will be legible for a very long time.

  18. bigboing says:

    I buried a few cases of obsolete testing materials from work in my yard a long time ago. During a re-build 15 years later, the workers showed me their amazing find–a lode of standardized tests and answer booklets, wet, but otherwise in perfect condition. This was in Hawai’i in an area where the ground saturates annually during the rainy season. Fortunately, I don’t work at the same place anymore, so I can’t be fired for my incompetence.

  19. Atvaark says:

    Couldn’t you burn them?

    Regarding the experiment, I guess it could last a while, especially if the hole is deep and the paper doesn’t get enough rain water. The place looks really dry to me.

  20. Stewart Haddock says:

    Oh Mark! Give that job to your kids. Kids will shred paper for days!!

  21. Milo says:

    OK, let’s review:

    1) Dig hole.
    2) Place papers in hole.
    3) Bury papers.

    In the right environment (i.e. [moisture + microbes + cellulase]), this would be an effective (if slow) means of destroying documents, all while enriching the soil. All good aims. But why not do these things faster– and thus more securely –with the following method?

    1) Dig hole.
    2) Scramble and crumple (don’t stack!) papers into hole. Forming air pockets is essential here.
    3) Lightly douse in acetone/denatured alchohol.
    4) [optional] If wind is present, cover hole with metal grill/mesh/grate.
    5) Light a match.

    Quick, effective, very entertaining– and my plants seem to love it.

  22. Shart Tsung says:

    Not even remotely a “wonderful thing”

    You dug a hole in your yard and threw paper in it, effectively making your backyard a landfill.

    Great job!

  23. Atvaark says:

    Adding a dead body would probably help.

  24. blueelm says:

    That’s a brilliant way to preserve your paper!

  25. Courtney says:

    When we moved, we had a bunch of stuff that needed to be shredded (why was I keeping 5 years worth of phone bills??) I brought them into my office, where we have a 4′ locked bin that gets hauled away once a week for shredding.

    Absent that – kiddie pool and a garden hose? Bonus that you’d have paper pulp for making new paper. Burying them just seems silly (and ineffective, as others have mentioned).

  26. doingsitups says:

    This is a great idea, especially considering the alternative of burning. Would it accelerate the decomposition if the paper is wet before covering the hole with dirt?

    For me, I send all my paper to the nearby scrap collecting company for recycling, secretive documents, with credit card numbers and such, I’ll tear them up and make sure the numbers part are thrown out on different trash days ^^” … too many detective movies, who is going to shift through my trash anyways and paper most likely gets wet and mushy in the compactor in the rubbish collector truck.

  27. patrikd says:

    I bet a batch of oyster mushrooms would make short work of a stack of paper like that. They’re really good at degrading cellulose.

  28. Cory (a different one) says:

    This is the exact method I use for getting rid of my aluminium cans and used batteries.

    Seriously though, I think your decomposition mixture is missing moisture.

  29. Anonymous says:

    even if it gets moist, you are going to need A LOT of moisture to penetrate dense piles of paper. That paper is going to be there for quite awhile, all you got now is a bunch of dirty paper. Hope you don’t plan on moving in the near to medium future, say ten years, as you’ll have bequeathed a bunch of stuff to future tenets who may want to dig up and put something there.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Seems like a lot of effort for nothing…I googled and found a place near my work that charged $40 for up to 200 pounds and they shredded it right there while I watched.

    If it’s worth shredding at all, it’s worth shredding before it leaves your direct control.

    Dan

  31. bbomb says:

    I’m sure there’s a community shredding program near you that would do this shredding for free. Almost all large communities have them and they are guaranteed secure (at least, as secure as any paid shredding service). Just google community shredding for your city/county to find out the details.

    Where I live, there’s one day a month when the county accepts boxes of paper for free shredding. I brought three times that much paper there and unloaded it for free just a few months ago.

    As for the composting, I agree with the above commenters: This will probably take a while and is not be guaranteed to be secure in the meantime. I recommend digging it back up, dumping some gasoline on it, and throwing in a match. Instant fire pit! ;)

  32. mmchicago says:

    I just took a box about that size to a commercial document shredding facility in town and they took it off my hands for less than $10 and even let me watch it get shredded.

  33. Grey Devil says:

    I think the best way to make sure if decomposes is to do the obvious, add them to a compost heap. I’m sure others have attempted to recycle paper this way, so there might be some good documentation online over making it work efficiently.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Beside it taking VERY long to decompose, I think this is infesting the ground water with chloride

  35. skeletoncityrepeater says:

    Too bad there’s not a self-sharpening foot-powered crosscut shredder, that’s something we all could get behind.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I’d have added some *ahem* biodegradable encryption… I’d have taken a big shit on the paperwork and then pissed over it. This double whammy will not only help speed up the process of decomposition, but if anyone does find your stash – they’ll think twice about handling it. Guaranteed.

  37. bat21 says:

    Go to the hardware store and rent a leaf shredder.

  38. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Our disposal company has a free secure shredding event annually. You just pull up in Lowes’ parking lot and hand your boxes over. They truck them back to the facility and shred them by the ton.

    • Gawain Lavers says:

      While I worked at a National Lab security had a story about an extremely competitive bid on a recycling contract that soured when it was discovered that they wouldn’t accept paper that had been shredded. “We’ll shred it for you, really!”

      So yeah, I don’t think I’d trust that. Likely they do just throw out everything that isn’t on corporate letterhead, but I doubt they take the time to shred it.

      I heard a similar story about people doing “free” recycling of corporate computers, where they’d yank the hard drives and then stack up palettes of them to ship off to more tech savvy corporations in Japan.

    • grimc says:

      So they say.

      Anyway, for people asking why he didn’t just burn them, there are probably comparatively strict local laws about outdoor burning where he lives. SoCal, air pollution, fires, etc.

      • spriggan says:

        I’m sure there would be comparable local restrictions about disposing of certain types of paper using certain toners and inks improperly.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I used to shred my documents and then recycle them as the brown part of my compost. For the vegetable garden, I’ve stopped this practice as some inks aren’t something you’d want in your diet.

  40. Roy Trumbull says:

    Cores have been done at garbage dumps and newspapers buried 50 years or longer are still legible. Non acid neuralized paper oxidizes in air. Protecting paper from air is a great way to preserve it.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Props to Anon #95…the mower would’ve been neat. spread the papers, multiple passes discharging to a central location…almost fake snow-ish.

  42. soap says:

    “I mixed in as much dirt as I could to accelerate the composting process. ”

    As any composter knows, dirt is “ash” in your compost fire. Adding it only serves to dilute the fuel and cool the fire.

  43. Ito Kagehisa says:

    Mark’s fighting “global warming” by geologically sequestering carbon! That paper is likely to still be there centuries from now.

    A worthy experiment.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Shred it-at most it will take an hour, and then burn it in a fireplace or a firepit in the yard.all you’ve done is preserve it for a while..ever seen the dead sea scrolls? dry burial of important information is NOT your friend if you want to hide the info..if you want to keep it legible, maybe.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Pretty sure that if people saw you burying stuff in your back yard for no apparent reason, people will start to talk.

  46. CaptObvious says:

    KILL IT WITH FIRE

  47. zandar says:

    why not recycle them into new paper? water dissolves paper quickly, tearing is not required. just get a big screen, scatter around and add water. OK, I am oversimplifying, but that’s close to the truth.

    The other thought I had was, like practically everyone else, burn! Burn!

  48. jdixon says:

    I agree, there are no reasonably priced, convenient shredding services for individuals. Here in Seattle, it’s haul a couple boxes to some light industrial area for shredding, do it yourself or hope for some local “free shredding day” offer from a CU. Burning leaves a bad taste re: climate change.

    Water that site well, maybe throw some manure in it, pray.

  49. jefe says:

    I think this is really something Homer Simpson did in a Simpson’s episode. Dohp!

  50. EH says:

    They truck them back to the facility and shred them by the ton.

    …or so the story goes.

    • Donald Petersen says:

      …or so the story goes.

      I’m inclined to similar paranoia, but I shudder to think of the poor slobs who would have to spend all day rifling through reams and reams of old phone bills, grocery receipts, math homework, advertising circulars, science fiction rough drafts, love letters, and quarterly dividend reports in a vain effort to find anything remotely profitable/actionable/useful/interesting in my own waste paper.

      Kinda like looking for a needle in a needle-free haystack.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Identity theft is kind of like stranger abduction and killer bees. They happen, but not as much as the media would have you believe. I figure that handing my shreddables over to a semi-public employee constitutes due diligence.

      I’ve had three fraud incidents. One credit card fraud perpetrated by a friend of a friend, who simply raided my desk. One credit card fraud perpetrated by a clerk at the Gap where I had just purchased something. One check fraud when the corner mail box was raided. Shredding old documents wouldn’t have stopped any of them, so I don’t allot much of my worry budget to that particular issue. Not when the zombie apocalypse is right around the corner.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Add some dog turds to that pile of paper and then bury it. Maybe pour a jug of urine on it too. That should help decompose the paper and make anybody that digs it up not want to mess with it.

  52. moosehunter says:

    If you are trying to distroy your pazpers this is a bad idea. even exposed to the air, modern filled paper will last multiples of decades. if left in a pile away from air, centuries. Example abound, from the 1850′s era houses that have readable newspapers filling thier wall spaces for insulation, to surviving examples of show posters 50 or more years on brick walls- exposed to the weather…

    really your best bet, if you want to bury is shred first, but then that defeats the purpose.

  53. Anonymous says:

    As pointed out, this is a great way to preserve your paper. A shallow grave is better than a landfill if you actually want this stuff to decompose, but it is going to take a long time.

    Landfills are full of newspapers from decades ago. There is a famous photo of an anthropologist reading a paper printer decades earlier. It is still as fresh as the day it was buried.

    Essentially, paper needs free oxygen to break down, and there is very little of that underground.

  54. Anonymous says:

    …will it blend?

    Seriously, I’ve heard of people putting paper in blenders as step one of recycling that paper — your blender would probably be more up to the task than your shredder. You could probably fit quite a few sheets in at a time too.

    Or as several others have suggested, just burn it. Much better.

    Or fill that bin with water and black ink. Good luck reading anything after that. I mean I’m sure it would still be possible, but I doubt anyone would go through the trouble to do it.

    Burying it in that ground isn’t gonna do anything.

    • Anonymous says:

      “…will it blend?

      Seriously, I’ve heard of people putting paper in blenders as step one of recycling”

      I came across a piece of paper from an old job that I felt warranted complete destruction rather than just basic shredding. I put it in the food processor with some water and presto pulped info. I am not sure I would do a large volume that way but I figure if I ever have small volumes of stuff I want to completely obliterate that is the way to go.

  55. Adam Fields says:

    I’ve actually tried burning a stack of old papers as an alternative to shredding them. It is in fact significantly more difficult. It’s not like tossing Ripley in the furnace and you’re done – any fire big enough to consume them quickly is too close to stand near, and they take a long time to burn on a normal grill-sized fire. Plus, burning doesn’t completely consume paper – you’re left with rather large ash pieces, which get whipped around in the wind and which you’ll still need to dispose of separately, and which you’ll also need to periodically clear out of whatever vessel you’re burning them in.

  56. Donald Petersen says:

    Burning takes work, too. Years ago I had a rural paper route (the kind you do by car) for a local newspaper, and once a week they put out a free paper that we were supposed to deliver to all the houses on our route that did not get the “real” paper, except for those houses that had expressly requested that they not receive it. This meant that one day a week I’d have to do the route twice (once in the predawn hours with the real paper, once in the afternoon with the throwaway one), and some weeks I just wasn’t up to it, so I’d occasionally just let the stacks of free papers accumulate in my garage rather than littering the porches and driveways of the neighborhood. My plan was to take them to the beach with a couple of wooden pallets and have me a bonfire.

    Well, turns out bundles of newspaper don’t burn very well. You need to have the paper loose, exposing enough surface area to get some air around and under the sheets, and you get big flaky ashes of paper flying up into the air and making an intolerable mess. I guess if you have a fireplace and can feed in the papers slowly a few sheets at a time like you’re Charles Foster Kane or something, it would work fine. It might also help if the furnace or fireplace or whatever is built to maximize heat and airflow, but an open-pit fire of paper is a waste of effort, in my experience.

  57. Anonymous says:

    You should mix it with some green yard clippings and vegetable scraps. Then wet it down and stir up the pile every week and it will compost quickly. It’ll take years to do it in a hole.

  58. Anonymous says:

    +1 for worm farm/compost bin

    all our bills / sensitive documents get a cautionary 2 tears before being fed to the worms. Mix it in with the rest of the food scraps / garden waste and its pretty much gone within 2weeks. What’s left is the win/win: worm casts and plant food.

  59. Anonymous says:

    I work at a day program with the developmentally disabled, and we accept shredding at a rate of $.25/lb. The “consumers” are ultimately paid $.12/lb. Maybe there’s a similar program in your area?

  60. YarbroughFair says:

    About 20 years ago my grandmother read a newspaper article on how to USE newspapers as weed barriers. My grandfather and father laughed at us while we followed the directions: Fill a large container (we used a wheelbarrow) with water and soak the newspapers folded as normal, you may need to weigh them down,and leave for a few hours until the papers are soaked completely through. Clear your flower beds of weeds and lay out the wet newspaper, at least 7-10 pages thick and then place ground cover such as beauty bark or gravel on top of wet product. Not one weed grew through the bark and newspapers for 5 years and only needed patching after that. The best tip we learned was to place the soaked newspapers around plants first by creating a cut to the center of the paper and then a hole the size of the plants trunk; placing the rest is easy after that.

  61. Anonymous says:

    It’s only the sheet music you buried that’s decomposing.

  62. Bucket says:

    I don’t think this will work that well.

    I used to work in construction. Once we were remodeling an old barn into a house and while trenching out for the water/sewer lines ran into a rich vein of medical patient records.

    Apparently, the previous owner was a doctor and he decided to bury his old medical records a few years after he retired. They’d been there at least 15 years, and most of them were still quite readable, even ones where the paper had turned black.

    These were about 4 feet deep though. Probably not enough oxygen for aerobic bacteria to get going, and anaerobic bacteria are slow.

    Perhaps rent a wood chipper? Not sure how well they’d handle paper.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Newsprint from the 50s found in landfills was still perfectly readable.

    You can also use newsprint as a weed barrier under mulch. Works just as well as plastic sheets and will last years.

    Looks like the OP will get some more exercise digging that stuff up.

  64. bruddacag says:

    The thing is, there is an optimal carbon to nitrogen ratio for decomposition. In order for the paper to completely decompose so that all of it is used, there needs to be 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Usually people use the terms brown and green. If you mixed in around 1.73 pounds of material high in nitrogen (coffee beans, fruits, vegetables, etc.) then I think you’ll see a big difference in between the test hole (with just paper) and the new one (with a mix). It will really benefit the garden and will keep the soil friable.

  65. D3 says:

    I’ve read that newspaper securely buried in a landfill can last for decades. No ultraviolet light, no means for effective oxidation. Maybe you should have dumped some soupy compost over the paper.

  66. Anonymous says:

    Is there a cheap homemade dye that renders print unreadable. Alternatively a solution that sucks ink out of paper? Then you’d be left off color paper.

  67. bruddacag says:

    Also, I forgot to mention that the composting process will happen much faster above ground because it needs to be turned once every two weeks to keep the bacteria moving around to other places in the material.

  68. Zoman says:

    You crazy Americans. I live in the middle of nowhere, and a council truck picks up my paper weekly and recycles it. Sure it would have taken a while to shred it, but come on… burying recyclable material?

    Then again, you guys were (practically) the only country on the planet not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

    Go Back to Bed America.
    -Bill Hicks

    • Matt J says:

      Americans recycle too. But that involves leaving the presumably confidential documents unsecured in the street. The whole point of shredding or burning is to avoid that scenario.

    • adamnvillani says:

      “You crazy Americans. I live in the middle of nowhere, and a council truck picks up my paper weekly and recycles it.”

      I’m pretty sure Mark (like me) lives in the City of Los Angeles, where we do have weekly curbside recycling. They’ll recycle just about anything, even styrofoam.

  69. Dave Faris says:

    I have a dry well that needs digging, Mark. Feel free to come on by, and don’t forget your shovel.

  70. WaylonWillie says:

    Scavenger Hunt! Hey everyone, I got there first! Right now I’m looking thru Mark’s draft-photos for his post to the Everyday Carry blog. You wouldn’t believe what kind of tactical pens he has!

  71. inness says:

    A native of Eastern Kentucky, my family tried its best to be environmentally responsible before we finally (late ’80s) began receiving regular trash removal service.
    Your paper is going to last a long, long time. We’ve put junk mail, with the glossy and plastic sections sifted out, into our garden and dug up sections virtually unscathed while tilling the earth a year later. And our climate is moist and humid, in case you were wondering.
    What *does* work, however, is digging a trench and burning the paper waste first. While this isn’t especially good for the atmosphere, it does achieve the dual-purpose of enriching the soil with carbon and thoroughly destroying documents. Be sure to crumple the papers into balls first, because if its laid flat (as I’m sure you’re going to learn) the compressed paper fibers will prevent incineration (and effective decomposition).
    Just don’t call it ‘hillbilly shredding’ if you decide to mention it. As a culture we get enough bad press thanks to decades of corporate/government energy colonialism.

  72. KNHaw says:

    I use my shredded documents in my composter as “brown waste” mixed with grass “green waste” clippings. I make sure to sort out evelopes with cellophane windows, so I don’t wind up with ribbons of the stuff in my soil. There’s a great satisfaction of turning old junk mail and bills into soil. Under those conditions paper will definitely will decompose, but buried like what the poster suggests – forget it.

    (ASIDE: Don’t bother buying a composter – just drill an old trash can with a hole saw all over, epoxy/silcone patches of window screen over the holes, and tumble the thing end over end a few times every few days).

    • Anonymous says:

      knhaw is right. Buy a good shredder and use it as browns in your regular compost. I have been doing it for years. Works great!

      Peter

  73. Professor Peewee says:

    I remember seeing a documentary about an archeologist who studies modern culture by examining landfills. I forget the details, but I remember him pointing out that the biggest problem in landfills was not plastic bags or disposable diapers, but the vast number of phone books being dumped following the breakup of the AT&T monopoly. Every new phone company was issuing their own book every year and they were all ending up in the landfill and not decomposing.

    Maybe shredding them before you bury them will speed up the process? >;-}

  74. PeterK says:

    It has been known for a long time that you can compost paper (and cardboard and grass clippings). First you crumple it up. This is important as it allows air to circulate. Then you apply urine. The nitrogen acts as a compost activator.

    The Centre for Alternative Technology recommends that you get your supply by getting your men folk to fill plastic bottles.

  75. geo says:

    Goodwill also offers a shredding service (in my area anyway). It’s cheap. You just have to trust them with your paper.

  76. Teller says:

    Wondering if you tossed in the labels of that brand new dolly?

  77. Stefan Jones says:

    What you need to do is find a crazy hoarding person. Bag up the paperwork, throwing in a few wadded-up baby diapers and a dead squirrel or two. Then sneak it into the crazy hoarding person’s house. Whoever eventually cleans the place out will dispose of the documents along with everything else.

  78. Anonymous says:

    Weeds, fungal mycelia, and rodents are OK suggestions, but I’m surpirsed nobody went with the obvious: termites.

  79. error27 says:

    I shred my documents first and then I bury them. I do it because it’s just common sense and good security.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/04/27/security_for_the_paranoid/

  80. enkidu says:

    A worm bin might also do the trick, tho it looks like a lot of bleached white paper. Isn;t that stuff full of dioxin or something bleachy? Even our el cheapo shredder does a decent job if you just don’t feed it too many pages at once. Shove that shredded mess in a hole with some kitchen scraps, mix with some dirt and water occasionally, turn every month or so and in a season or two you have compost that you can use for non edible plants etc.

    Hey don’t you have a hen house? Wouldn’t the shredded paper be useful in there as nesting material? Shred as you go or do it for a few minutes every month or so (it’ll remind you to go turn the paper compost pile) =)

  81. Anonymous says:

    You might to research C/N, the carbon to nitrogen ratio. Basic soil science.

  82. DeWynken says:

    I think the addition of a bloody Zoman would hasten the composting rather quickly. Here, use my shovel.

  83. libraryboi says:

    Burning anything creates air pollution. You learn that in elementary school. Classes start again in September.

  84. Anonymous says:

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned silverfish yet. Those things love to eat paper. If one were to keep a colony of them, one could probably use them as a viable alternative to a shredder.

    A biosheredder perhaps?

  85. thebelgianpanda says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this, but a liberal application of Grants Stump Remover + boiling water should really kickstart the decay process, since that is exactly what stump remover is designed for.

  86. Daemon says:

    You realize of course, that if you soaked it in water and ran it through a blender you could use it to make more paper.

  87. Major Variola (ret) says:

    Did you know? You can use old motor oil to fertilize your lawn.

  88. Anonymous says:

    This is where having a fireplace is really handy…

  89. Cola says:

    We have our gerbil take care of this stuff. No one’s going to piece together documents chewed and nested in by a gerbil. Keeps him busy and warm and it’s super easy to change.

  90. Anonymous says:

    I believe that’s called “illegal dumping.”

  91. Anonymous says:

    I did something similar on April 20th last year… seemed like a good idea at the time.

  92. Anonymous says:

    i haven’t scanned all the comments to see this suggested already, but what you need is buckets, a bathtub, and a basement.

    1. fill as many buckets as you need with water (i reuse 16L fryer oil buckets; restaurants will often give these away or throw them out if they cannot repurpose them)

    2. fit as many documents into each pale as you can while ensuring that all the paper is both totally submerged and that there is still some excess water for the paper to absorb. i do parts 1 and 2 in the bathtub, and i’ve found that it’s best to do them in that order.

    3. store the buckets in a cool, dark place and wait 3 days to a week, or until the paper comes apart easily when you stir it. then stir all the buckets.

    4. now that anything that was on the paper is unreadable, you can do whatever you like with what’s left. this presumably biodegradable goop is easily buried or just plain dried out and recycled (strain the water).

  93. Anonymous says:

    I wonder how many people instantly checked those photos for Exif tags – to get the GPS co-ordinates of the documents?

    I’ll admit I did.

  94. SeamusAndrewMurphy says:

    I don’t get this. There have been many news stories and articles about the lack of paper decomposition in landfills, for decades even. Mark F. has never come across any?

    And what happens to the next pile of paper? Does the entire backyard get dug? I’m baffled at the thought process.

    When I have paperwork that I don’t trust to prying eyes, I fill up the kitchen sink, soak the offending items, and make them into a big, wet ball. It’s like the grocery list or paycheck that you left in your pants pocket and tossed into the washer.

  95. sam1148 says:

    Why not make paper mâché? The kids would love the project. They could make masks, or bowls, puppets, etc…and paint them. In the end you’d have some nice candy bowls, fruit bowls and other things the kids would come up with.

    Putting paper in the ground probably isn’t the best. Dioxins are used in office paper productions. Probably a tiny amount in the finished product, but still why add to the problem of polluting your own ground water?

  96. AirPillo says:

    If you use an actual compost bin (it doesn’t even need to be a very good one, just a container of stuff kept moist, open to air, and turned regularly) that paper won’t last long. If you just bury it though, it’ll keep for years.

    I regularly compost documents. It skews the compost way towards high carbon amounts so it pays to balance it with green foliage for nitrogen content, but the paper still breaks up quickly.

    You get better results if it’s shredded first, of course. The more mechanical digestion is done first the faster microorganisms can take care of the rest.

  97. dccarles says:

    ..It occurs to me that I am not interesting enough to have anywhere near to 52 pounds of material sensitive enough that it must be shredded.

  98. ArchaeoJoe says:

    As an archaeologist and husband to a fellow archeologist writing her thesis on paper labels preserved on 1895 bottles in a fill deposit, I can say those will probably be there for a while.

    Hopefully your yard goes from wet to dry extremely often to speed up the process!

  99. malthusan says:

    I bet Mark didn’t actually do this. I wager he just posted it so Boingers can spend the rest of the afternoon telling him he’s wrong.

    It’s like BoingBoing Commenter Nirvana.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      You might have an exciting career future as a Comment Moderator.

    • Mark Dow says:

      Yes, that second picture is shopped. I can tell by the papers.

      And where is the displaced dirt in the last photo? Dirt does not just disappear.

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually, I remember how hard Calif soil can be – he probably needs his yard roto-tilled, and is hoping that by posting this, it’ll get dug up over the next few nights…

      • arbitraryaardvark says:

        yes, anon, it reminds me of the story of the ira volunteer who had been taken into custody. his young son comes to see him and says that without him he doesn’t know how he and ma will get the south 40 plowed. “oh son, don’t plow the south 40, that’s where i have the guns buried.” that night the british police come and dig up the south 40, but find no guns.

  100. Anonymous says:

    Paper, minimum 1 year in ideal conditions. Dry ground, heavy paper and lots in one place aren’t.

  101. Kimmo says:

    Next time get the kids to make a papier mache sculpture.

  102. pffft says:

    yeah, you should have filled the remaining space with water at the very least.

  103. robcat2075 says:

    One of archaeology’s most fertile sources of old paper documents is a thousands years old dump in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt where they were buried as garbage.

  104. Brother Phil says:

    I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
    (I can’t believe no one else has said that yet)

  105. spejic says:

    So what if it’s just buried instead of destroyed? He was worried about getting rid of the stuff without anyone else seeing it, and he got rid of the stuff without any one else seeing it. If no one else will be digging into it in the next 5 years (and no one has dug in mine in over 30), then it works and it’s free and it doesn’t use electricity and needs minimal effort on a one shot deal and it’s all good. If it’s good enough for Mafia bodies, it’s good enough for paper.

    • kjulig says:

      He was worried about getting rid of the stuff without anyone else seeing it, and he got rid of the stuff without any one else seeing it.

      …and then he told thousands of people where he buried it (Mark’s address is published all over the Internet), even providing photos for easy identification of the exact spot.

      I’m starting to suspect that we’re being trolled by BB recently: Is sitting lethal? Is sugar poison? Bury your documents!

      I’m just amazed to what lengths they go for a joke, even digging holes for our entertainment!

  106. Anonymous says:

    Dead sea scrolls part deux!

  107. davedog says:

    I wanted to add my paper waste to my compost but was advised against it because of stuff (metals, toxic this or that, who knows what) in the ink. Does anyone agree with that concern or is it probably negligible?

  108. Spankh says:

    Worms like the starch in the paper, but I am not sure if they like the toner or other colors/types of paper. So, you can try making a worm farm and have them take care of it. Otherwise you will need more oxygen, water and churning to ‘digest’ the paper fibers.

    Another thing you can do is look for offices with those secure-shred boxes and take note. Pull of a Shawshank Redemption type ploy and bring in your shredding a few papers at a time, slip ‘em in there when no one is looking, and sooner or later, all your shredding will be gone.

  109. funkyderek says:

    What about using a washing machine? You could then bury the ensuing soggy pulpy mess.

  110. jasonq says:

    Shoulda pissed in the hole before re-filling. Provides moisture AND nitrogen to start the composting process.

    We compost our shredded paper both conventionally and lagomorphically – as a source of carbon (brown) material directly in the pile, and as bedding for our two bunnies.

  111. starbreiz says:

    Basic science tells me these will take a longass time to decompose because there is not enough oxygen. Landfill effect.

  112. Anonymous says:

    Did you call to make sure there weren’t any underground services in the area before digging the hole?

    http://www.digalert.org/

  113. Wordguy says:

    I used to shred my docs, use the shredded paper as rabbit hutch lining, and then compost it. Worked great. I never had 52 pounds to do at once though.

  114. Brian C. says:

    It seems everyone here agrees that burying your documents is not the best of all possible ideas.

  115. i_r_beej says:

    @Brother Phil: F*ckin’ A!

    I was going to propose a couple canisters of CN-20… but that would probably be ineffective against paper.

  116. Freddie Freelance says:

    I’ll Second/Third/Whateverth the “Needs Water, Greens and Worms” comments, and add “throw some Chicken Litter in the hole, too.”

  117. DrOctapu says:

    Doesn’t it make more sense to just burn it? I thought the fact that decomposition was slowed by air was common knowledge…

  118. jonw says:

    I did this on the last day of a particularly bad school year (6th grade IIRC). But with a twist – it was under an old tree stump in a pond 3 feet deep. A year later when the pond was dry I pulled up the stump and the paper was still readable.

  119. pyster says:

    Should have chosen a spot with a little more shade, and tossed in some mushroom mycelium. You could have created a fairy ring that would amuse for years to come. This would also work to decompose the papers.

  120. ocschwar says:

    Unless the soil is really acidic or really basic, and steadily rained through, these papers will fascinate some archaeologists centuries from now. That’s why archaeologists love finding genizot (Jewish book caches.)

    BTW, when I worked in Los Alamos, I found a bird’s nest that was made mostly of shredded paper.

  121. EeyoreX says:

    Joke, right?

    I mean, all other aspects of this (environmental, practical, sanitary, sanity) aside, I think the no:1 rule for disposing of confidential documents is to NOT blog on the internet about where you’ve put them in case someone would want to retrieve them.

    And if the documents aren’t really confidential then you don’t really need to dispose of them, right?

  122. Anonymous says:

    This has probably been said, but I’m a bona fide archaeologist. I certify that packed together like that in a dry soil, those things will be legible for a long while. >500 yrs, who knows? But 1-10 yrs, probably. Adding a bit of water should speed decomp along, but if they actually get waterlogged (from consistent overzealous hosing or an unexpected high water table) you’ll end up cutting off O2 and preserving them in excellent condition. Also depends on the acid content of the paper.

  123. wavechild says:

    Thanks for the reminder to do this. It’s good to use water and plant a tree- the paper will absorb the water like a sponge, which means you don’t need to water so much.

    for example

  124. Anonymous says:

    Could you throw them all over the lawn and just use the mower? I suppose there might be paper everywhere even with the bagger attachment.

    Snowblower might also work. It might be fun to make paper airplanes and throw them into the auger.

    I would expect a maker to come up with sort of device with the equivalent coolness of a transdimensional confidential document disposal unit (TCDDU). Perhaps route the output of a snowblower into a lawnmower (I might use some sort of recirculating loop depending upon how confidential those documents are). A TCDDU would have a flux capacitor where the mass of partially shredded documents reaches 88 mph.

  125. mgfarrelly says:

    Hey Mark, you could be creating the Frauenfelder Geniza!

  126. Patrick Austin says:

    Mark’s Patented Secure Document Disposal System:
    Step 1) Bury documents in back yard
    Step 2) Advertise location of buried documents on one of the largest web sites in the world

    I love it.

  127. Nadreck says:

    It’s been Standard Procedure for scholars in the Chinese Empire to bury scrolls telling what really happened during the Interesting Times and not just what the official story says. These have been dug up centuries later and are OK but decompose in a jiffy once uncovered.

  128. Anonymous says:

    We had boxes of older taxes and old receipts from a small business we owned we wanted to shred – and not put whole into recycling. We overheated a few cheap shredders even doing a few pages at a time, trying not to overload it. Finally, after tossing the dead one in the trash in my garage I looked over at the leaf/stick shredder sitting there…. That was a lot of fun. I made a small fence with chicken wire to catch the blizzard and fed the leaf shredder with papers which mashed them pretty well. I’m sure a more professional grade cross cut shredder works better if anyone wanted to piece it back and read it, but it was ‘good enough’ for the sensitivity level once it was mixed with so many boxes and then covered with dirt and lawn clippings.

  129. Mitch_M says:

    Paper is made of basically the same stuff as wood and leaves, which people do successfully compost. You would have to get your paper wet and make sure it has contact with soil or other decomposing materials so that some bacteria and fungi get into it. Since it has an unfavorable carbon to nitrogen ratio it would help to add nitrogen rich materials like manure, coffee grounds, or fish emulsion to it.

    I used to work at a print shop that was in a state of disrepair and I found composted paper on the floor under pallets.

  130. Lyle Hopwood says:

    I’m with the others. They don’t decompose fast. Here’s one chronicle.

    http://www.bcb-board.co.uk/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=67357&start=580

  131. complex says:

    For all massive paper disposal operations, use your local guinea pig rescue! Perhaps the LA Guinea Pig Rescue.

    I actually make a big pile of our paper-based guinea pig litter (and sticks), and while it’s presumably anaerobic, it decomposes a lot faster than the wads of shredded paper I’ve tried to compost in the past. (Perhaps because of the guinea pig waste.)

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