Shredder Stories You Have To Read To Believe – Industry Trend or Event

Edwin Powell

In the golden age of television, Art Linkletter showed us that children say the darnedest things. Today, in the golden age of document security, shredder manufacturers are finding that people shred the darnedest things.

Shredders are almost universally accepted as the first line of defense when it comes to document security in offices; keeping sensitive pages from prying eyes both outside and inside an organization. Shredders come in a variety of configurations for different applications–from personal models that shred only a few sheets at a time to high-capacity models that can chew through paper by the pound. Some even shred things other than paper, such as diskettes, CDs, audio tapes, and videocassettes. Lower security strip cut models shred paper into quarter-inch ribbons, while high-security crosscut models chop the shreds into small particles to make documents more difficult to reconstruct than Humpty Dumpty after his legendary fall.

Given the nature of their function, shredders have to be made to withstand a certain amount of punishment. But no matter how tough they’re made, users in the real world seem to have an uncanny knack for coming up with ways to stress them that the folks in the R&D department probably never thought of. It’s a tendency that lends credence to the old adage that somebody who claims to have made something ‘completely foolproof’ has probably sorely underestimated the ingenuity of a complete fool.

“I am always amazed at how people can misbehave. There’s no device that I know of that gets abused and misused the way a shredder does… Our challenge is to make them tough enough yet still affordable,” says Tony Storrie, vice president of marketing for shredders at Fellowes Manufacturing.

From the odd to the innovative to the downright bizarre, what follows is a collection of some of the strangest shredder stories we’ve heard. Please note that many of these anecdotes involve (mis)uses of shredders that could result in damage to the machine, voiding of warranties, and possible injury to operators. They are not necessarily endorsed by the manufacturers or this magazine. If you try this stuff at home, we don’t want to hear about it–at least until we get ready to revisit this topic sometime in the future.


While most shredders are intended primarily to shred paper, many are capable of handling small foreign objects like paper clips or staples. Storrie reports having had shredders returned to Fellowes with large chunks of metal lodged in the cutters. “We’ve gotten all kinds of machines back with pieces of scissors or letter openers in them,” he says.

While foreign objects caught in shredders are usually no laughing matter, as illustrated by stern safety warning labels on most models, advising users to be careful with things like neckties and dangling jewelry, it didn’t stop Ray Mackenzie of Bosser Business Machines from getting a laugh out of Bob Hope. While demonstrating a shredder for Bob Hope Enterprises, with the famous entertainer in attendance, he accidentally got his tie caught in the mechanism. As it turned out, everyone got the joke, except Mackenzie.

“It was really embarrassing, but they thought I was trying to be funny,” he explains.


While the necktie may have been unintentional, sometimes textiles are shredded intentionally, as in the case of Everlast, a manufacturer of products for the boxing industry, which uses a shredder from Security Engineered Machinery (SEM) to shred cloth to go into punching bags.

This is just one of many ways in which shredders are used to generate raw materials for manufactured goods. Peter Dempsey, national sales manager for SEM, says a customer in Maryland uses their shredders and disintegrators to turn a waste product from the local seafood industry into a salable commodity. Maryland is known for its Chesapeake Bay blue point crabs the way Maine is known for its lobsters, and seafood packing houses generate mountains of crab shells after they extract and package the meat. The customer uses two models of SEM shredders and disintegrators in the process of breaking down the shells–previously dumped in landfills–into powdered chitosan, which is marketed as a dietary supplement.

Mexican restaurants give shredders some unusual workouts. While one manufacturer said a Mexican restaurant called their consumer hotline for warranty service on a shredder that had been used to shred lettuce, both Fellowes and Dahle Manufacturing report their strip-cut shredders have been used to shred tortillas. “They took tortilla shells that were red and green, they shredded them, and then they deep-fried them and served them as a garnish on the plates,” says Storrie, who hastens to point out that such uses not only void a machine’s warranty, but probably violate health codes as well.

“We don’t necessarily recommend people use our shredders to shred food, and the department of health probably frowns on it, too,” he says.


Besides lettuce, shredders are sometimes used to grind up certain other leafy substances, some of which may not necessarily carry the Good Housekeeping–or the DEA — seal of approval. Several manufacturers related stories of tobacconists using paper shredders to break down tobacco leaves for use in their special blends. Although a tobacco leaf and a sheet of paper are both flat and thin, their properties differ enough that paper shredders are not necessarily the most appropriate choice for that function. According to Ralph Mencogliano of Global Shredder Corp., “There would probably be a problem with it jamming the blades.”

Bosser’s Mackenzie says his company has seen more than one jammed shredder with what appeared to be marijuana particles caught in the cutters. Interest in shredding this substance seems to come from both sides of the law, though. Libby Nelson of Schleicher & Co. says her company was once approached by a local law enforcement agency interested in purchasing a shredder to dispose of bales of the evil weed.

“I told them we’d need some samples to make sure we got them the right machine. It didn’t work, though,” she says.

Law enforcement agencies have an interest in shredding other items as well. Mencogliano says his company has fielded inquiries from the U.S. Customs Service regarding shredders for destroying counterfeit merchandise, such as knockoffs of designer purses, seized as they are brought into the country. During the Tylenol scare in the early 1980s, SEM’s shredders were used by the drug’s manufacturer to destroy packages of potentially tainted product.


Now, this one sounds like every nine-year-old boy’s dream. Among its industrial shredder placements, Security Engineered Machinery (SEM) placed a shredder/disintegrator with a major toy manufacturer for the purpose of shredding off-spec fashion dolls, games, and collectible cars. According to SEM’s Dempsey, the labor cost to open the packages and salvage any usable parts is more than the toys are worth, so the manufacturer disposes of them. Dempsey says some 5,600 pounds of toys are shredded each day. Previously, the toys were baled and taken to a landfill, but the disposal cost was high and many of the items were finding their way to flea markets. Shredding the defective products reduced the volume of off-spec/returned goods and rendered the toys unusable on the flea market circuit.

Another shredder company was commissioned to destroy toys for more adult play. A Japanese condom manufacturer sent thousands of defective prophylactics to a secure document destruction facility run by the shredder company. You won’t find it at your local adult book store, but the entire destruction process was videotaped in order to provide the manufacturer with evidence that the job had been completed.

When it comes to defective products, shredding the packaging is just as important as destroying the product itself. Counterfeiters can either fill the packages with their own pirate product, or use the legitimate packages as a template for their own knockoffs.


Several states use shredders to destroy lottery tickets, and in Las Vegas, the MGM Grand uses an SEM shredder to destroy worn dice, mah jong tiles, decks of cards, and casino chips. In “Sin City,” the latter spends almost as easily as cash, which SEM shredders destroy at the nation’s Federal Reserve banks. Global has placed shredders with credit card manufacturers to destroy surplus card blanks lest they fall into the wrong hands. The state of New Jersey uses a shredder from Global to pulverize automobile license plates. According to Mencogliano, Global had to perform extensive testing to determine which of their models would withstand the rigors of a steady diet of sheet metal.


Shredded paper has long been used as animal bedding, but livestock aren’t the only ones resting in peace on this material. Word has it that at least one casket manufacturer uses the stuff to pad out the satin linings of its coffins. We can be reasonably sure they don’t hear too many complaints from their customers, and if any of the shredded papers contained sensitive corporate information, their secrets have been carried to the grave.


There is a story that has circulated around the shredder industry for several years about an industry executive who came close to being a potential customer of the aforementioned casket company, thanks to his deskside shredder. On the night before a big deal was due to close, after many late nights at the office preparing the necessary papers, the executive’s wife decided to bring some pizzas and their two small children to his office for a long overdue family dinner.

The children, having small appetites and being curious about their unfamiliar surroundings, finished their meal quickly and began exploring Daddy’s office. A few moments later, the executive heard a familiar whirring noise and found his kids feeding the merger papers into his shredder, blissfully ignorant of the havoc they were bringing down on their father.

While history does not record what consequences were ultimately brought down on his mischievous offspring, the executive did manage to avoid a coronary episode, and was able to file the merger papers the next day, although probably without much sleep that night.


One shredder manufacturer related the sordid tale of a company Christmas party at which an employee, perhaps feeling a little too much of the spirits of the season, leapt atop a conveyor-fed shredder and began dancing. Unfortunately, the shredder was accidentally activated and the hapless employee lost a toe. The shredder was later seen adorned with a safety sticker showing a disco dancer inside a red circle with a diagonal slash through it.


There’s nothing like a little destruction to take the edge off when you’re having a bad day. It’s really not a new concept. People have long found a certain visceral satisfaction in acts like burning love letters when a relationship ends. The argument could be made that shredders provide a safer alternative to open flames and a less painful one to putting a fist through a wall.

“There’s just something sort of theraputic about shredding. It’s like purging, kind of cathartic. People get kind of happy with that kind of destruction,” says Ed Klumpf of Ecco-Rexel Shredders.

Klumpf often advises stressed employees to shred some paper as a way of easing tension on the job. “If you go off and shred for half an hour, you come back feeling a whole lot better,” he says.

Klumpf cites some clinical evidence to back his claims regarding the emotional benefits of shredding. His company has a dealer in Iowa that has sold numerous shredders to a nearby mental institution that uses paper shredding as an activity for patients, especially ones with autistic disorders. “The patients use the shredders as play toys. It gets their attention and they like doing it,” he explains.

Ecco-Rexel also provides peace of mind through shredding at its Manhattan showroom. Over the years, the company has received numerous requests, mainly from elderly ladies, to rent a shredder for a day. Klumpf says while that type of transaction was not cost effective for the company, they still wanted to help those individuals out.

“We had all these little old ladies with their love letters who wanted to rent a shredder for a day,” he explains. “So we finally came up with a policy that they could bring in up to two grocery bags or small suitcases full of papers and shred them for free in our showroom. It’s kind of like a public service.


While this story isn’t particularly funny, it does illustrate the need for a good shredder. When Iranian students loyal to the Ayatolla Khomeni stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, taking hostages in a standoff that would last 444 days, there were no standards or specifications in place for federal agencies to use in purchasing shredders. In accordance with the ‘low-bid’ system of government purchasing, many government offices, including the embassy in Tehran, used less expensive strip-cut shredders. As a result, the Iranians were able to painstakingly reconstruct documents for use in anti-American propaganda pieces and for other nefarious purposes. This intelligence breach prompted the Department of Defense to adopt crosscut shredders as the standard for all federal offices and to establish strict specifications on the size of the shreds. according to Jack Preiss of Ecco Rexel.

Edwin Powell is Senior Editor of OfficESolutions magazine. For more on his shredder exploits, don’t miss this month’s Editor’s Note on page six.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Quality Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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