Guitar maintenance. Rolled old guitar strings and an electric guitar. Changing guitar strings.

I’m not very musical and I never have been. I sing only when the radio is on loud enough to drown out my off-key caterwauling, and if you ask my mom about my brief tenure as a viola player in grade school I genuinely think she might pee from laughing so hard. I have my talents, but music is definitely not one of them.

A recycling request

All this is to say that I must admit that broken instrument strings hadn’t ever really crossed my mind when it comes to this eco friendly thing I do. I’d honestly never considered where guitar strings go when they break, where violin strings go after snapping.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, they go where most things go after we’re done with them — the garbage can. Incredibly, instrument strings can’t be recycled in most municipal recycling programs, so an estimated 1.5 million pounds of strings end up in landfills in the U.S. each and every year. If this surprises you, you’re not the only one — I had no idea that these strings weren’t able to be recycled and was even less aware that they added up to such a huge amount of waste. Finally, one company has decided to do something about it.

Finally, one company has decided to do something about this waste source and help reclaim these lost strings.

Did you know guitar string recycling was possible? Click here to learn how.
Playback is a string recycling collaboration between powerhouse recycling giant Terracycle and music company D’Addario. Image Credit: D’Addario (Instagram)

Playback is a string recycling collaboration between powerhouse recycling giant Terracycle and music company D’Addario. D’Adarrio is the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instrument accessories, and for years has prioritized sustainability in the way they manufacture, package and ship their products.

The company manufactures 95% of its products in the USA and is committed to recycling, reusing, and conserving energy during the manufacturing process. The company uses LED bulbs and efficient HVAC systems in their offices and factories, post-consumer recycled paper in their product packaging, and soy-based inks for all in-house printing jobs. In essence, D’Addario helps musicians sing the blues in a really green way.

These efforts towards creating an environmentally-conscious business model haven’t gone unnoticed, either. D’Addario was recently honored with the “Getting It Done” award by Sustainable Long Island, a non-profit organization that states its mission as wishing to “advance economic development, environmental health, and social equity for all Long Islanders.” Clearly D’Addario’s efforts fit the bill.

Now, however, the company is shifting its sights from the beginning of their product life cycle to the end. Having committed to green methods of production, D’Addario now wants to ensure that music strings will end up just as green as they started, by recycling them with the help of Terracycle.

A picking partner

Terracycle was founded in 2001 by Tom Szaky, and has quickly made a business of recycling the unrecyclable. Cigarette butts, chocolate bar wrappers, coffee pods and pens — you name it and Terracycle has created a recycling brigade to collect, sort, and recycle it. Terracycle is now bringing its unique innovations in recycling to the music world by teaming up with Daddario for the Playback program.

To participate, interested musicians need only to begin collecting their strings broken from enthusiastic jam sessions or vigorous cello solos, and then mail them to Terracycle — free of charge. Once sent to Terracycle the metal and nylon strings are separated by type. The metal strings are melted down to create new metal alloys while the nylon strings are recycled into industrial plastic applications.

Not only does the Playback program offer a new life to instrument strings, it also benefits D’Addario’s charitable foundation by crediting each .25 lb of instrument strings with $1 towards The D’Addario Foundation, a non-profit organization (what does .25 lb of strings look like? It’s the equivalent of 6 sets of acoustic guitar strings, 7 sets of electric guitar strings, or 2 sets of bass guitar strings, FYI).

From its website, the D’Addario Foundation states it is a “grant-making organization providing monetary and product support to a broad range of grassroots not-for-profit music instruction programs all over the world. On an annual basis, we support hundreds of the best organizations on the frontline of the battle to improve access to music education in communities of great need.”

Unfortunately, as funding for Arts programs is typically the first on the chopping blog when education cuts come down the pike, foundations like these are more and more in need.  Supporting their efforts is fantastic — supporting them with donations earned through guitar string recycling is even better.

Strings of success

D'Addario Guitar String recycling program
To date, Playback has collected 30,000 strings for recycling, their goal is 300,000 by the end of 2016. Image Credit: D’Addario

To date, Playback has collected 30,000 strings for recycling, their goal is 300,000 by the end of 2016. Do you want to help them reach their goal? Click here to read about and sign up for the Playback recycling program, and do your part to spread the word! Tell your musical friends, your garage-band buddies, the staff and patrons at your local instrument shop. Strings of any brand can be collected and recycled, and it’s completely free to do so!

You could even take initiative and set up collection sites at music hot spots or classes, collect as many strings as you can! Doing so could make a huge dent in the 1.5 million pounds of instrument string waste accumulating in landfills each and every year. That’s as much as two statues of liberty!

Innovative programs like this one from D’Addario prove that every single industry out there can find opportunities for sustainable change — it’s not just limited to typically “green” fields like solar power or waste management. By focusing on reducing packaging materials, producing 95% of their products in the USA (and eliminating shipping pollution by doing so) and now helping customers deal with their product at the end if its life, D’Addario makes guitar string recycling sound like music to our ears.

Feature image credit: optimarc / Shutterstock

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.