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What is a Burn Bag?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A burn bag is a container which is designed for the disposal of sensitive materials. Classically, a burn bag has literally taken the form of a bag which is designed to be burned once it has been filled. Burn bags are used both by businesses and governments to ensure that classified material is safely disposed of in a way which will not permit reconstruction.

In addition to being used to dispose of classified material, a burn bag can also be used to handle contamination. Emergency responders who work at contaminated sites may be required to change out of their protective garments at the end of the work day and place them into burn bags for safe disposal, to ensure that the contamination does not spread. Burn bags can also be used to collect contaminated items for later incineration, as might be the case when an office is contaminated with a pathogen.

The advantage of a burn bag is that it completely destroys the material in question. Shredded material can potentially be put back together to gather information, especially with the assistance of scanning software which is designed for this purpose. For extremely sensitive material like weapons designs, intelligence information, or other data which could potentially compromise national security, a burn bag is the preferred disposal method.

The design of a burn bag can vary. In general, the bag is made from flammable material, and in some instances the bag itself is equipped with a tab which can be pulled to release a flammable material and a charge so that the bag will burn itself. A self-contained burning system is highly useful for burn bags used in the field, ensuring that people can dispose of dangerous documents quickly and prevent them from falling into the hands of the wrong person.

In business, the burn bag may be used for companies which do a lot of research and development, to ensure that sensitive plans are not stolen by the competition. Burn bags may also be used to handle information which could be used for identity theft, such as customer profiles. Other companies may contract with disposal firms which will offer to incinerate sensitive material rather than landfilling it.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By CellMania — On Jun 29, 2011

@christym- Burn bags are really not that expensive considering what they are used for. My company uses burn bags and we buy them from an internet site that deals in that type of product. I think that we got 250 of them for around $80.00.

By christym — On Jun 28, 2011

The company that I work for has recently acquired a job that is government contracted. They are requesting that, when the job is over, we use burn bags for all of the correspondence in relation to this particular job. Where do you buy burn bags and how much do they cost?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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