Green Resources Info Service and FAQs
Green Resources Info Service

Green Jean Ponzi is ready to answer your questions
The EarthWays Center's 'Green Jean' Ponzi is at your service with the answers to your sustainable-living questions.
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Green Resources FAQs

Can I recycle audio cassette tapes and VCR tapes?

Cassette tapes are a “magnetic media” that is just about extinct in common use – but the zillions of audio cassettes and “VCR tapes” still stored in our collective basements constitute a huge disposal issue. Here’s a little history to help explain

This technology uses a thin coating of particles that can be magnetized embedded on thin strips of plastic. Magnetic tape for sound recording was invented in Germany in 1928. After World War II this technology – along with many others including use of plastics, the artificial intelligence that has powered our digital communication revolution, and “rocket science” – came into popular use. As television advanced into popular culture, magnetic media and equipment were evolved to record, store and play back images as well as sound. Whether the tape was wide or narrow, stored on “open reels” or packaged into “cassettes,” magnetic media helped revolutionize portable and DIY communications. But the advent of digital audio and video technology using computerized and optical signal processing, this technology’s CD and DVD equipment and storage media replaced their magnetic predecessors.

Yes, you may still have a VCR hooked up to a TV somewhere, and a working boom box – but this equipment, and its massive supply of tape-storage programming, is pretty much obsolete. Being sustainably-minded, you will want to responsibly recycle your old cassettes and VHS tapes when you clean out that basement corner – but it probably won’t be easy or free.

“There’s this massive amount of media tapes, but no 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 much easier to find recyclers for, because money can be made from the materials. Magnetic media requires a lot of labor to deconstruct, and these items just don’t contain enough valuable components to make recycling them worthwhile. GreenDisk sells containers that you can fill to a designated weight and mail in for recycling. They are a specialized recycler that has taken on the challenge of deconstructing and recovering materials in magnetic (and digital disc) media – using a very specific process, for a fee. This reference came from Earth911.

In a national search, your St. Louis Green Resources Answer Service found one free public recycling option for audio and video cassettes:  in San Francisco, CA, where waste minimization is about as advanced as it gets, in a state with some of the nation’s highest landfill fees. We include it here so you can see what’s involved in dealing with this kind of waste item – or to help you plan your cassette recycling when you move to the Bay Area.

St. Louis area residents and businesses can get cassette media recycled properly – including receiving data destruction verification – by EPC USA*, a locally-owned eCycler providing national service. There will be a fee associated. If you are considering dealing with an electronics recycler who says they recycle cassette media for no charge, think twice about this claim. Your home stash of VHS movies will not include any material security risks, but corporate or business media should be recycled with a guarantee of both responsible material recycling and data destruction – an area of recycling where there is No Free Lunch. Really.

One important answer to this kind of problem is the Product Stewardship Initiative.  Also called “Producer Responsibility,” these are programs growing notably in the electronics industry, partnering sustainability and waste minimization experts with manufacturers to prompt design-for-recycling, and to help manufacturers evaluate material choices with an eye toward “cradle-to-cradle” responsibility for products at the end of their useful life. But this is a very new development in manufacturing. It was NOT in the thinking of product designers back when cassette tapes popped to the top of our media charts. Consumer preference for products that are designed for deconstruction and recycling is a powerful force to drive this Product Stewardship ethic into really common practice.

One last option for recycling your cassettes: their tape is an excellent medium for crochet. Would this mode of DIY fashion give you magnetic appeal?

*This referral is current as of August 2015; please contact EPC to confirm, as eCycling service offerings can fluctuate.

Answers provided by:

Jean Ponzi
Green Resources Manager, EarthWays Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden
  Marcus G. Rivas
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Learn more from Marcus "Dr. Detox" Rivas on how to "Detox Your Domicile"
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2020 Virtual Topics

  • The Power of Plants: Natives!
  • Energy in Buildings: Clean, Green, Economical
  • Recycle Responsibly
  • The Dirt on Compost
  • Invasive? Native? Exotic: an Eco-Logical View of Plants
  • Smarter—Greener—Cleaner
  • Monarchs and Mosquitoes
  • Good Green News: Food!
  • Earth's Climate: Facts, Myths, Opportunities
  • Green Means Business!
  • Where is "Away"?
  • Being a Green-savvy Consumer

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