VHS and cassette tapes are a classic example of a dead technology. Shoved out of use by DVDs and CDs more than a decade ago, video tapes are so dead that hipsters barely use them. But what should you do with the stacks of old tapes you’ve got laying around the house? Sadly, video tapes are also a classic example of a technology designed with no consideration for its end of life.
Besides Styrofoam, which can sometimes be reused inside surfboards, videotapes might be the most difficult household item to recycle. Many household items are not cost-effective to recycle, meaning they cost more money to break down than can be reclaimed for their raw materials. VHS tapes are the worst in this regard. In short, they take a lot of work to recycle, and they are almost worthless.
GreenCitizen does accept VHS tapes, but for a small fee. We take pride in being able to recycle all electronics for free, but VHS tapes are just too costly to recycle for free. A little background: For most old electronics, there is some reclaim value. So, for every pound of say, toasters, which we recycle, we are able to make back a small amount of money, approximately 4 cents per pound. So, if we recycle 100 pounds of toasters, we recuperate $4. It’s not enough to cover our costs, but it’s a start. Our collecting and processing costs are partially covered.
With videotapes, it’s the opposite. Like with all items, we have costs associated with collecting and processing them. However, we can’t recover any of these costs by selling the raw materials. In fact, we have to pay another recycler to take the raw VHS material off of our hands. So, if we recycle 100 pounds of VHS tapes, we have to perform all the work, and then pay $15. And since our downstream recycler recently tripled their price, we have to charge 25 cents per tape for recycling (and 10 cents for cassette tapes).
Video Tape Recycling Options
If you are a San Francisco resident, here is what you can do: The plastic case of the video tape can be recycled. Pry open the plastic case with a screw driver and remove the black magnetic tape from the casing. This black tape must be thrown in the garbage. Once this has been removed, all of the remaining plastic can be put into the blue recycling bin at your home of office. Video tapes with the black magnetic tape still inside must be put in the trash.
You can donate your VHS tapes to either Goodwill or to the San Francisco Public Library. However, while they may rent or sell some of your VHS tapes, I can’t imagine either of these organizations having the manpower to dismantle and recycle the tapes they do not use. So, some of your tapes may be reused, but most will be thrown away. To be sure your tapes do not end up in a landfill, please recycle them yourself. It is a lot of work, but this is the price we all pay for consuming goods designed without consideration for their end of life.
For locations of VHS and cassette tape recyclers outside of San Francisco, please consult earth911.com, a nation-wide search engine for recycling centers. Just enter “VHS” or “Video Tapes” and your zip code to find the drop-off locations closest to you. Earth911.com can be used to find recycling centers for many household items.