Records destruction

Before University offices undertake the destruction of any official records, they should determine whether the records should be maintained for a longer period of time, transferred to the University Archives, or destroyed. This process is described in detail in evaluating records for disposal. Official University records should only be destroyed in accordance with an approved retention and disposition schedule or with the written permission of the University Archivist.

Methods of destruction

The most appropriate method of destroying records will depend upon the records’ storage media (ie. paper, microfilm, microfiche, tape, disk, etc.), volume, and sensitivity of record content (ie. confidential vs. non-confidential).

Paper and microforms

When the record media to be destroyed is paper or microform material and the record content is confidential or sensitive, then shredding is the most appropriate destruction method. When volumes are relatively low, this shredding can be done within University offices, using regular office shredders.

Where large volumes of records are to be destroyed, it may be appropriate to utilize the services of a commercial shredding company. Charging an hourly rate, these companies come directly to University offices and shred boxes of paper records, either immediately in mobile shredding units or later at their own shredding facilities. Most commercial shredders can accept staples, paper clips, and fasteners, which can reduce preparation time. To reduce costs, it is best to remove the records to be destroyed from filing equipment, pack them in marked boxes, and place them together in an accessible area.

University offices can also arrange with a commercial records destruction company to provide on-going, regularly scheduled, shredding services. To provide this service, the records destruction vendor places locked security bins in the University office. Office staff then place any confidential documents to be shredded in these bins on a day-to-day basis. The destruction company will then come to the University office, unlock and empty the bins, and shred the contents. The shredding schedule will depend on paper volumes and is negotiated between the University office and the records destruction company. This services frees University staff from spending their time shredding confidential material on a day to day basis.

It is also important to note that some commercial records destruction companies recycle their shredded materials. Recycling of shredded materials is recommended because well shredded materials do not pose a security risk and helps contribute to a healthy environment.

Recycling is also appropriate for intact paper records of a non-confidential nature. The University of Toronto has a recycling programme in place and offices are encouraged to participate.

Electronic storage media

The most common method of destroying computer generated records is to erase the tape or disk so that the storage media can be reused. However, this method is not a reliable destruction technique and should not be used with confidential records. Often, “deleted” documents can be retrieved with specialized software because the “deletion” only erases the index to the document and not the document itself. For this reason, electronic records stored on disk or tape are most securely destroyed by destroying the disk or tape itself and not just erasing the records stored on the media.

The physical destruction of electronic storage media can be done within University offices if the volume of materials to be destroyed is low. If a larger volume of disks or tapes needs to be destroyed, many commercial records destruction companies also provide specialty shredding of these types of materials.


List records to be destroyed

All official records being destroyed must be listed and their destruction documented. Such information is necessary to protect the legal position of the office and the University by providing accurate information on records that have been destroyed and the procedures followed in their destruction. If the records are in off-site storage, then they should have been listed on the index sheets or container transmittal forms provided by the off-site storage provider before the record boxes were forwarded to the off-site storage facilities. If the records are being maintained on-site, then they must be listed before being destroyed.

Written authorization to destroy records must be obtained from the University Archivist by means of an approved records retention schedule or a signed Disposition Statement. Essentially, the Records destruction form is simply a list of the records, by series, with the signatures of the University Archivist and an official from the University office. For more information on the destruction process, please contact the Records Archivist.

Certificate of destruction

When a commercial records destruction company destroys on-site records or when an off-site storage vendor destroys off-site records, they will issue University offices a certificate of destruction. This certificate should be attached to the signed Destruction of Records form and its attached record list. The record list, Destruction of Records form, and Certificate of Destruction together document what records have been destroyed. These documents provide an important audit trail and must be retained permanently.