VHS tapes are a tough item to recycle. To really do it correctly, you have to use a tiny screwdriver to open the cassette and remove the tape. After that you have to sort the different grades of plastic and metal into piles according to the material’s composition. The next step may actually be the hardest: finding a company that can recycle that miniscule amount of low-value stuff. While an individual could feasibly recycle their home movie collection if they were willing to take the time (and had a bunch of tiny screwdrivers sitting around), imagine trying to disassemble the estimated 2.26 billion VHS tapes in Ontario, Canada. That’s a lot of hours. Philip Yan believes he has the solution. He and business partner Graham Lewis are the founders of Project Get Reel, a social enterprise based in Toronto, Ontario. Project Get Reel will employ people with workforce barriers (including ex-offenders, people with disabilities and recent immigrants) to take apart VHS tapes for recycling. Employees get valuable job training that can help them find work in the private sector. At the same time, they divert a nuisance product from landfills, incinerators and the third-world countries that are often the recipient of our dangerous and useless e-waste. Yan’s main job is running Genesis XD, a marketing and communications firm with a twist that advises clients on enacting social change. In 2013, Yan decided to get involved himself, starting Klink Coffee, a coffee distribution business, with Lewis to help people coming out of prison find jobs. The experience was so positive Yan started looking for other ways he could help. This time, though, he didn’t want to address one social problem. He wanted to address two: helping people find stability through employment and doing something good for the environment. In 2014 he started talking to the Recycling Council of Ontario to explore a recycling business. They told him recycling VHS tapes was a major problem. People called all the time asking how to recycle VHS tapes, and the council simply told them, “We don’t know what to do with them,” Yan recalls. That was the problem the social entrepreneur chose to tackle with Project Get Reel. Workers will hand-disassemble VHS tapes and separate out the plastic, metal and tape. The metal can be sent to a metal recycler. The plastic will be granulated (chopped into little pieces) and sold to a plastic recycler. Yan doesn’t have a solution for the tape yet, but “it is very strong,” he says. He’s looking into ways to braid it into some kind of rope that could be used in third-world countries. “We want to create a business model where the revenue comes from selling the materials,” Yan says. As a result, Get Reel will take VHS tapes at no charge. While the business is scaling up, it will accept tapes only from recycling centers and other institutions. At some point Yan hopes to take VHS tapes from individuals as well. Yan’s goal is to employ up to 10 people. An individual should be able to dismantle and sort between 300 and 500 VHS tapes per day. Employees will move between different tasks, such as taking apart tapes and running the granulating machine, so they receive training in several skills. Get Reel’s facility is inside the Learning Enrichment Foundation, an organization that provides a one-stop shop for social services. “By having our workshop over there, people that work for us can get access to a lot of great services like language training, child care, even career planning and support,” Yan says. Right now Get Reel is working on acquiring their recycling license from Ontario’s provincial government and purchasing all their equipment. They are also running a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo to raise $25,000 in start-up capital. They hope to begin hiring people and recycling VHS tapes in May. Over time, Yan hopes they can expand their operation and accept CDs, DVDs and other materials that are labor-intensive to recycle. More recycling means more jobs, fewer plastics being thrown away and new opportunities for nonprofits to see how bringing business and mission together can accomplish great things.
Get Reel Hopes to Become the VHS Recycling Solution
Recycling VHS tapes is a difficult process. One new nonprofit is hoping to give individuals a hand, though.