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.