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?
Come to think of it, you probably have that Poison cassette and a slew of old VHS tapes somewhere right now, don’t you?
All of these obsolete VHS tapes and audio cassette tapes, collectively called magnetic media, are actually a huge waste problem.
Why is it so difficult to recycle VHS tapes?
“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.
What are VHS tapes made from?
“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.”
The outside case of the VHS tapes is made from #5 plastic (polypropylene). The tape inside is made from #1 plastic but is coated in a few different metals, making it difficult to recycle. The Mylar tape is actually hazardous due to the metals on its surface.
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 in VHS tapes on a large scale, Friedman says that they’ve had success in the past with boutique solutions like individuals creating bags or decorative items.
How to reuse VHS tapes
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, GreenDisk offers Technotrash Cans that are available in different sizes and include prepaid shipping, or you can ship the company 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 [that] doesn’t degrade very well into landfills, which takes hundreds of years to degrade.”
How to recycle VHS tapes
Step 1: Find an e-waste recycler in your area using the Earth911 recycling search.
Step 2: Call and ask if they accept VHS tapes because their policies are changing all the time.
Step 3: If there are no e-waste recyclers in your area, visit GreenDisk.com.
Step 4: Package all of your VHS tapes in a box and mail them to GreenDisk.
Many e-waste recycling programs across the country will actually recycle VHS tapes as well. It may take a few searches and phone calls, but there may be someone in your area. You can click the button below to go to the Earth911 recycling search to find an e-waste recycler in your area.
If there isn’t a recycling solution for VHS tapes in your area, you can mail them in to GreenDisk. GreenDisk’s mail-in electronics recycling program is one of the best in the country. You can easily recycle your VHS tapes through them by packaging them up and sending them in. You can grab their address here.