ⓘ Paper shredder

Paper shredder

ⓘ Paper shredder

A paper shredder is a mechanical device used to cut paper into either strips or fine particles. Government organizations, businesses, and private individuals use shredders to destroy private, confidential, or otherwise sensitive documents.


1. Invention

The first paper shredder is credited to prolific inventor Abbot Augustus Low, whose patent was filed on February 2, 1909. His invention was however never manufactured.

Adolf Ehingers paper shredder, based on a hand-crank pasta maker, was manufactured in 1935 in Germany. Supposedly he needed to shred his anti-Nazi propaganda to avoid the inquiries of the authorities. Ehinger later marketed his shredders to government agencies and financial institutions converting from hand-crank to electric motor. Ehingers company, EBA Maschinenfabrik, manufactured the first cross-cut paper shredders in 1959 and continues to do so to this day as EBA Krug & Priester GmbH & Co. in Balingen.


2. History of use

Until the mid-1980s, it was rare for paper shredders to be used by non-government entities.

A high-profile example of their use was when the U.S. embassy in Iran used shredders to reduce paper pages to strips before the embassy was taken over in 1979, but some documents were reconstructed from the strips, as detailed below.

After Colonel Oliver North told Congress that he used a Schleicher cross-cut model to shred Iran-Contra documents, sales for that company increased nearly 20 percent in 1987.

Paper shredders became more popular among U.S. citizens with privacy concerns after the 1988 Supreme Court decision in California v. Greenwood ; in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside of a home. Anti-burning laws also resulted in increased demand for paper shredding.

More recently, concerns about identity theft have driven increased personal use, with the US Federal Trade Commission recommending that individuals shred financial documents before disposal.

Information privacy laws such as FACTA, HIPAA, and the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act are driving shredder usage, as businesses and individuals take steps to securely dispose of confidential information.


3. Types

Shredders range in size and price from small and inexpensive units designed for a certain amount of pages, to large units used by commercial shredding services that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and can shred millions of documents per hour. While the very smallest shredders may be hand-cranked, most shredders are electrically powered.

Shredders over time have added features to improve the shredder users experience. Many now reject paper that is fed over capacity to avoid jams; others have safety features to reduce risks. Some shredders designed for use in shared workspaces or department copy rooms have noise reduction.


3.1. Types Mobile shredding truck

Larger organisation or shredding services sometimes use "mobile shredding trucks", typically constructed as a box truck with an industrial-size paper shredder mounted inside and space for storage of the shredded materials. Such a unit may also offer the shredding of CDs, DVDs, hard drives, credit cards, and uniforms, among other things.


3.2. Types Kiosks

A shredding kiosk is an automated retail machine or kiosk that allows public access to a commercial or industrial-capacity paper shredder. This is an alternative solution to the use of a personal or business paper shredder, where the public can use a faster and more powerful shredder, paying for each shredding event rather than purchasing shredding equipment.


3.3. Types Services

Some companies outsource their shredding to shredding services. These companies either shred on-site, with mobile shredder trucks or have off-site shredding facilities. Documents that need to be destroyed are often placed in locked bins that are emptied periodically.


4. Shredding method, and output

As well as size and capacity, shredders are classified according to the method they use; and the size and shape of the shreds they produce.

  • Hammermills pound the paper through a screen.
  • Grinders have a rotating shaft with cutting blades that grind the paper until it is small enough to fall through a screen.
  • Cardboard shredders are designed specifically to shred corrugated material into either strips or a mesh pallet.
  • Cross-cut or confetti-cut shredders use two contra-rotating drums to cut rectangular, parallelogram, or lozenge diamond-shaped shreds.
  • Strip-cut shredders use rotating knives to cut narrow strips as long as the original sheet of paper.
  • Pierce-and-tear shredders have rotating blades that pierce the paper and then tear it apart.
  • Disintegrators and granulators repeatedly cut the paper at random until the particles are small enough to pass through a mesh.
  • Particle-cut shredders create tiny square or circular pieces.


4.1. Shredding method, and output Security levels

There are a number of standards covering the security levels of paper shredders, including:


4.2. Shredding method, and output DIN - Deutsches Institut fur Normung

The previous DIN 32757 standard has now been replaced with DIN 66399. This is complex, but can be summarized as below:

  • Level P-3 = ≤ 320 mm² particles or ≤ 2 mm wide strips of any length
  • Level P-4 = ≤ 160 mm² particles with width ≤ 6 mm
  • Level P-5 = ≤ 30 mm² particles with width ≤ 2 mm
  • Level P-1 = ≤ 2000 mm² particles or ≤ 12 mm wide strips of any length For shredding general internal documents,such as instructions,forms,expired notices
  • Level P-6 = ≤ 10 mm² particles with width ≤ 1 mm
  • Level P-7 = ≤ 5 mm² particles with width ≤ 1 mm
  • Level P-2 = ≤ 800 mm² particles or ≤ 6 mm wide strips of any length

4.3. Shredding method, and output NSA/CSS

  • The United States National Security Agency/CSS produces the "NSA/CSS Specification 02-01 for High Security Crosscut Paper Shredders".
  • They provide a list of evaluated shredders.

5. Destruction of evidence

There have been many instances where it is alleged that documents have been improperly or illegally destroyed by shredding, including:

  • Oliver North shredded documents relating to the Iran–Contra affair between November 21 and November 25, 1986. During the trial, North testified that on November 21, 22, or 24, he witnessed John Poindexter destroy what may have been the only signed copy of a presidential covert action finding that sought to authorize CIA participation in the November 1985 Hawk missile shipment to Iran.
  • According to the report of the Paul Volcker Committee, between April and December 2004, Kofi Annans Chef de Cabinet, Iqbal Riza, authorized thousands of United Nations documents shredded, including the entire chronological files of the Oil-for-Food Programme during the years 1997 through 1999.
  • The Union Bank of Switzerland used paper shredders to destroy evidence that their company owned property stolen from Jews during the Holocaust by the Nazi government. The shredding was disclosed to the public through the work of Christoph Meili, a security guard working at the bank who happened to wander by a room where the shredding was taking place. Also in the shredding room were books from the German Reichsbank. They listed stock accounts for companies involved in the holocaust, including BASF, Degussa, and Degesch. They also listed real-estate records for Berlin properties that had been forcibly taken by the Nazis, placed in Swiss accounts, and then claimed to be owned by UBS. Destruction of such documents was a violation of Swiss laws.


6. Unshredding and forensics

To achieve their purpose, it should not be possible to reassemble and read shredded documents. In practice the feasibility of this depends on

  • the resources put into reconstruction.
  • how well the shredding has been done, and

The resources put into reconstruction should depend on the importance of the document, e.g. whether it is

  • a criminal matter,
  • a matter of national security.
  • corporate espionage,
  • a simple personal matter,

How easy reconstruction is will depend on:

  • whether other processes such as pulping and chemical decomposition are used
  • the size and shape of the shredded pieces
  • the orientation of the material when fed
  • the size and legibility of the text
  • whether the document is single- or double-sided
  • how effectively the shredded material is further randomized afterwards

Even without a full reconstruction, in some cases useful information can be obtained by forensic analysis of the paper, ink, and cutting method.


6.1. Unshredding and forensics Reconstruction examples

  • After the Iranian Revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, Iranians enlisted local carpet weavers who reconstructed the pieces by hand. The recovered documents would be later released by the Iranian government in a series of books called "Documents from the US espionage Den". The US government subsequently improved its shredding techniques by adding pulverizing, pulping, and chemical decomposition protocols.
  • Modern computer technology considerably speeds up the process of reassembling shredded documents. The strips are scanned on both sides, and then a computer determines how the strips should be put together. Robert Johnson of the National Association for Information Destruction has stated that there is a huge demand for document reconstruction. Several companies offer commercial document reconstruction services. For maximum security, documents should be shredded so that the words of the document go through the shredder horizontally i.e. perpendicular to the blades. Many of the documents in the Enron Accounting scandals were fed through the shredder the wrong way, making them easier to reassemble.
  • In 2003, there was an effort underway to recover the shredded archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police. There are "millions of shreds of paper that panicked Stasi officials threw into garbage bags during the regimes final days in the fall of 1989". As it took three dozen people six years to reconstruct 300 of the 16.000 bags, the Fraunhofer-IPK institute has developed the "Stasi-Schnipselmaschine" Stasi snippet machine for computerized reconstruction and is testing it in a pilot project.
  • The DARPA Shredder Challenge 2011 called upon computer scientists, puzzle enthusiasts, and anyone else with an interest in solving complex problems, to compete for up to $50.000 by piecing together a series of shredded documents. The Shredder Challenge consisted of five separate puzzles in which the number of documents, the document subject matter and the method of shredding were varied to present challenges of increasing difficulty. To complete each problem, participants were required to provide the answer to a puzzle embedded in the content of the reconstructed document. The overall prizewinner and prize awarded was dependent on the number and difficulty of the problems solved. DARPA declared a winner on December 2, 2011 the winning entry was submitted 33 days after the challenge began - the winner was "All Your Shreds Are Belong To U.S." using a combination system that used automated sorting to pick the best fragment combinations to be reviewed by humans.

6.2. Unshredding and forensics Forensic identification

The individual shredder that was used to destroy a given document may be sometimes be of forensic interest. Shredders display certain device-specific characteristics, "fingerprints", like the exact spacing of the blades, the degree and pattern of their wear. By closely examining the shredded material, the minute variations of size of the paper strips and the microscopic marks on their edges may be able to be linked to a specific machine. c.f. the forensic identification of typewriters.


7. Recycling of waste

The resulting shredded paper can be recycled in a number of ways, including:

  • Insulation - Shredded newsprint mixed with flame-retardant chemicals and glue to create a sprayable insulation material for wall interiors and the underside of roofing
  • Animal bedding - To produce a warm and comfortable bed for animals
  • Void fill and packaging - Void fill for the transportation of goods
  • Briquettes - an alternative to non-renewable fuels

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