In 2013, a woman named Marion Stokes passed away and left behind 140,000 VHS tapes
full of local and national news broadcasts. While you probably do not have anywhere near that many VHS tapes sitting around your house, even a small number of them can seem like a big problem because they are so tough to recycle. Like cassette tapes and other old media made of plastic, there simply are not a lot of places that recycle VHS tapes. We share several places where you can recycle them, as well as a couple ideas for reusing them.
What are VHS tapes made of?
VHS tapes are made with two different types of plastic. The outer cassette is typically made of polypropylene (PP) or #5 plastic. The inside ribbon is made with Mylar, a type of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or #1 plastic. The ribbon is coated with iron oxide and other metals, some of which are hazardous. Fun fact: Mylar is also used to make the ribbon on cassette tapes and 5¼” floppy disks.
Why is it important to recycle VHS tapes?
VHS tapes are made of plastic, which will never biodegrade. If they end up in a landfill they will sit there for thousands of years – and over time the hazardous metals on the tape may leech into the ground. If they end up in an incinerator they can release chemicals such as dioxins into the air we breathe. It may be hard to recycle VHS tapes, but it can be done, so please put the extra effort into making sure they do not end up in the waste stream.
How to recycle VHS tapes
One sure way to recycle VHS tapes is to send them to Green Disk
, a Washington-based company that specializes in recycling all kinds of e-waste. There is a small charge for their recycling services, but you can ship up to 25 pounds of material for the same price, so see if your friends or neighbors have old VHS tapes they want to get rid of. Or take this as an opportunity to clean out other old electronics you do not want, including jump drives, cell phones, pagers, PDAs, portable cassette players, Beta tapes, camera film, and rechargeable batteries.
In many communities, VHS tapes are considered e-waste and can be recycled through the regular e-waste collection program. Different programs accept different things and have varying policies about where and when to leave items, so check with your local government waste management agency for more details. Here are a couple examples: Santa Barbara residents can drop off e-waste at one of three local collection centers, or have it picked up through the bulky waste disposal program. A private contractor in Will County, Illinois (which includes towns such as Aurora and Naperville) will pick up a limited number of e-waste items every year. Citizens can also take unwanted goods to one of several community partners that accept VHS tapes and other types of e-waste.
Some places have businesses or nonprofits that specialize in VHS tape recycling. In Columbia, Missouri a group called Alternative Community Training (ACT) takes VHS tapes for recycling. All the proceeds are used to support their job training programs for people with disabilities.
How to reuse VHS tapes
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a thrift store, library or specialty retailer that is interested in VHS tapes. In Eugene, Oregon St. Vincent de Paul will gladly accept them and put them on their retail thrift store shelves. They find that people with vacation homes often have old VCRs and like to have a stack of movies to watch themselves or show the grandkids when they come to visit.
If you have rare or collectible movies on VHS, you may be able to sell them online using a site like Ebay.
For the most part, however, if you want to see VHS tapes get reused you will need to do it yourself. This blog post
on the site Top 10 of Everything and Anything has some fun ideas for turning VHS tapes into bookshelves, clocks, pencil cases and more.
Or perhaps you can draw inspiration from artists using VHS tapes in their work. In 2010 Lorenzo Durantini created an amazing undulating tower
from over 2,000 VHS tapes. Artists also use the magnetic tape inside the VHS tapes, as is demonstrated by these pictures on Pinterest
How to reuse and recycle VHS tape cases
VHS tapes were typically sold in cases of various kinds. Some were made of plastic; some were made of cardboard. The cardboard ones are easy to recycle; simply place them in your recycling bin along with other types of paper.
Once you find a place that recycles VHS tapes (either in your community or online), check to see if they accept the plastic cases. Many of them will, but not all of them. If you cannot find a good place to dispose of plastic cases, consider reusing them. They are good for all kinds of things, from storing electronics and crayons to making cute purses and notebook covers.