To determine when you may destroy records, approved records retention and disposition schedules (also called retention or R&D schedules) are consulted. These describe the types of records created by public offices in West Virginia. They list the records series, and state how long each type of record must be retained according to statute. They specify when (after their creation) to destroy the records, and they document other relevant retention and disposition information by records series. A schedule also may state if records are to be reformatted, or if they must be destroyed in a certain manner. Retention schedules constitute a legal plan for the destruction of records.
As in the case of the destruction of records after duplicating them in another format, definite and prescribed procedures are followed:
NOTE: If the record has been stored in another format (such as microfilm) or is an unnecessary duplicate, it may be destroyed before its full retention period has elapsed.
Methods of Destruction
The nature of the information contained in the record, as well as the record's format (paper, film, disk, floppy, etc.), dictates the method by which it should be destroyed. Disposition by recycling or daily waste pick-up is usually appropriate. However, when records contain personal, private or confidential information, they must be destroyed so as to prevent unauthorized access to them. A good rule of thumb to apply is to see if names appear on the form. If so, don't choose throwing them away as a viable destruction method. A county can be sued if records containing personal information (even a name and address) are found to have merely been thrown away.
Recycling (also known as pulping) is the most responsible way to dispose of paper records that are not sensitive, private, or contain personal information. However, even records containing these information elements can be recycled, provided they are shredded first. Private or confidential records can be recycled if the recycling company and its personnel are bonded, which means that they will certify that the record information has been protected from public access. An additional fee usually is charged for certified disposition.
Solid waste recycling programs are required by state law: (W.Va Code: § 20-11-6). And beyond the legal mandate, they make good common sense. They offer long-term benefits, are environmentally friendly, and they may also be economically productive.
There are recycling locations in nearly every county in West Virginia. To find out which one is nearest to you, contact your county's solid waste authority, or, for a manual containing all state recycling locations, contact:
WV Division of Natural Resources
Environmental Resources Section
State Capitol Complex, Building 3, Room 732
1900 Kanawha Blvd, East
Charleston, WV 25305-0665
Phone: (304) 558-3370
Fax: (304) 558-6207
The parameters of throwing away records in any format have been listed above. However, it must be understood that throwing records into the trash is a means of disposal that should only be used when recycling is not an option.
Destroying Electronic Data
To protect individuals who may have private or confidential information stored in an electronic format, data must be obliterated, or "wiped" from hard drives and portable devices. Deleted records can be recaptured. They have not been wiped. Special software programs wipe records to make them permanently irretrievable and inaccessible. Disks must also be properly destroyed.
Shredding is the most popular method of destroying private or confidential information. Shredders come in a variety of sizes and capacities. If the volume is too large for an office shredder to handle, some vendors will bring equipment to your facility and shred documents on site. If records are to be shredded on the vendor's premises, certified shredding is recommended.
Shredders have become a very economical piece of office equipment, offering a degree of confidence that confidential, sensitive, or personal information, once shredded, cannot be recaptured. The best type of shredder to buy is the type that offers a fine cut or that minces the records. The type that merely shreds the documents into strips, while less expensive, can create a series of strips that can be reassembled into a complete document.
Once a common means of destroying records, environmental regulations now generally restrict burning, making it a less viable destruction option. If used, ensure that the burning is legal at the burn site and environmentally safe, and that after the burn all private or confidential information has been obliterated. Burning should be utilized only when recycling, trashing, and shredding are not options.
Table of Contents
Records Management and Preservation Board