The VHS and Cassette Tape Recycling Dilemma

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Ah, nostalgia. Remember putting on those neon pink legwarmers or rolling up the sleeves on your white blazer and rocking out to that Poison cassette tape? Or pressing record on your VCR to catch the latest episode of “Charles in Charge”?

Obsolete audio cassette tapes and VHS tapes pose a problem for many recyclers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Come to think of it, you probably have that Poison cassette and a slew of old VHS tapes somewhere right now, don’t you?

Earlier this year, Sony announced the last production of the cassette-playing Walkman, and DVD player sales outpaced VCRs almost five years ago.

All of these obsolete VHS tapes and audio cassette tapes, collectively called magnetic media, are actually a huge waste problem.

“One of the bigger problems is that there’s this massive amount of VHS tapes (and magnetic media) and there really isn’t a great solution for recycling them,” says Mickey Friedman, COO for GreenDisk, one of the largest e-waste recyclers in the U.S.

Friedman says it’s been hard for the company to recycle all of the pieces associated with magnetic media.

“The outside casing is made from different types of plastic and that can be recycled; it’s the Mylar tape that really can’t be,” he says. “We do about as good as you can.”

Friedman says products with profitable metals, like cell phones and computers, are often easier to find recyclers for, because of the money that can be made from the materials. Magnetic media just doesn’t contain enough valuable components to make recycling them worthwhile.

While it’s been hard to recycle the magnetic tape on a large scale, Friedman says that they’ve had success in the past with boutique solutions like individuals creating bags or decorative items.

For instance, RecycleCindy of MyRecycledBags.com, which is dedicated to crafting with recycled materials, crochets purses and tote bags using VHS and cassette tape. She even tells you how to create them on your own, or you can purchase one on her website.

There are also a number of artful ways you can reuse VHS and cassette tapes, such as wallets, bracelets, lamps or ribbon on gifts.

If you’re not that crafty, GreenDisk will collect your VHS and cassette tapes, erase the contents and recycle as much as possible through two recycling options. For those with a lot of e-waste, Technotrash Cans are available in different sizes and include prepaid shipping, or you can ship GreenDisk materials on your own and pay the shipping.

Either way, it’s important to dispose of magnetic media properly. Otherwise, as Friedman says, you’re just “putting plastic which doesn’t degrade very well into landfills, which takes hundreds of years to degrade.”

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