How to Recycle VHS Tapes and Cassette Tapes

recycle VHS, cassette, tape, data destruction

recycle VHS tapes VHS and audiocassette tapes are classic examples of dead technology. We’re sure you have a box of these things somewhere, waiting to be dealt with. Can you even recycle VHS tapes and cassettes? Sadly, this is a classic example of a technology designed with no consideration for the end of its life. In fact, next to Styrofoam, VHS tape might be the most difficult household item to recycle. They’re not cost-effective; the value of getting anything useful out of them is below the cost in person-hours required to break them down.

A big part of the problem is the outside plastic shell of VHS and cassette tapes, which won’t biodegrade in our lifetime. They might sit in a landfill for a thousand years (give or take). And just because all the parts are made of plastic doesn’t mean that you can throw this item in the recycling bin. The inner tape is coated with toxic metals like chromium. If it sits in the landfill for too long, these toxic metals will seep into the ground.

So why is this dead technology still taking up shelf or closet space in our lives?

What does VHS stand for?

VHS stands for “video home system.” The technology was developed by Victor Company of Japan (JVC) in the early 1970s. VHS was commercially released in Japan on September 9, 1976 and in the United States on August 23, 1977. However, as early as the 1950s, magnetic tapes were already being used in the television industry, which required a much faster production cycle than the movie industry’s slower pace of working with film stock. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the two popular videotape formats were VHS and Betamax. Betamax, Sony Corporation’s competing format, was released in Japan on May 10, 1975. “Beta,” although superior in many ways, was also more expensive, and VHS ultimately won the market.

How many VHS tapes are out there?

Nobody knows how many VHS cassettes are still sitting around in homes and offices globally. But according to Wikipedia, by 2005, there were still 94.5 million Americans who had VHS format tapes at home. It’s a good guess that there are still millions of these things out there. Similarly, there are still millions of audiocassette tapes taking up space in homes and businesses. (You probably have a stash of these things as well!)

What are VHS tapes made from?

The outside case of a VHS tape is made from #5 plastic (polypropylene), which will take centuries to biodegrade (via microorganisms) or photodegrade (via sunlight). The tape inside is made from Mylar (polyethylene terephthalate), a #1 plastic that’s coated with chromium, iron oxide, and other metals. This coated Mylar is actually considered hazardous waste. Waste material classified as hazardous is challenging to recycle because it can’t legally go to landfill, where its toxic components will seep into the ground or vent into the atmosphere.

How about computer data tape?

We’re including computer data tape in this discussion of VCR tapes because it has the same disposal issues. For decades, computer data tapes were widely used to back up data on mainframe and minicomputers used by businesses, institutions, government, and military. Millions of these tapes share the characteristics of any VHS tape, also having a much larger capacity. With each technology advance, they were able to store more data. A critical problem with disposal is that the data stored on these tapes is often highly sensitive. Whether it’s backup data from a hospital, a bank, or a loan company, it’s confidential information about people and businesses. That’s why computer data tapes must be recycled with great care to avoid identity theft and security breaches.

Are my old VHS tapes and audiocassettes worth money?

Depending on the content and condition of your old video and audiotapes, they might be worth something to somebody. People collect all kinds of things. You can always try selling your classic tapes online to the highest bidder. We’ve seen some go for as much as $9,000! You can also bring the buyers to you with a yard sale or Craigslist ad. And while the stores that used to sell and rent videos are mostly out of business, you can still find music stores that might be interested in trading your old VHS tapes and audiocassettes for cash. Finally, while this may sound far-fetched, there are still a few people in the world who love tape as a recording medium, and they might be interested in your collection as raw materials to erase and reuse.

Reusing VHS and Cassette Tapes

If reselling or recycling aren’t options, you can always find alternative uses for your VHS tapes and audiocassettes. Why not get crafty and repurpose them in fun and exciting ways? For instance, you can never go wrong with cassette coasters, VHS table stands, and cassette tape bracelets.

How does incinerating tapes affect the environment?

Are you thinking about destroying your own VHS, data, and cassette tapes? Don’t do it! Considering the available options for recycling these media from an environmental and data security perspective, we at GreenCitizen believe that waste-to-energy incineration is the best solution for minimizing environmental impact, reducing landfill, and avoiding global dumping.

Based on the information available at Covanta, GreenCitizen’s energy-to-waste incineration partner, Energy-from-Waste (EfW) is widely recognized as a technology that can help mitigate climate change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), every ton of municipal solid waste processed at an EfW facility prevents the release of approximately one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the atmosphere by avoiding methane generation at landfills, offsetting greenhouse gases from fossil fuel electrical production, and recovering metals.

Landfills are the largest source of human-made methane. Methane has been found to be over 30 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If we apply the waste-to-energy (WtE) model globally, there’s a potential to save 3.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases as CO2 each year. That’s equivalent to installing two million one-megawatt wind turbines or doubling nuclear power plant capacity. Here in the United States, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to closing more than 60 large coal-fired power plants.

How can I save my content from VHS tapes, data, and cassette tapes?

These obsolete technologies used to be the go-to method for storing precious memories or data that might be needed in the future. Before recycling and destroying these tapes, you should save that irreplaceable content by converting your VHS to digital format.

Here are some VHS-to-digital converters that can do the job:

To preserve your archived audio, here are some cassette-to-MP3 products to help you with the task:

OK, I’m ready! How do I recycle those old VHS tapes?

For locations of VHS and cassette tape recyclers, please consult earth911.com, a nationwide search engine for recycling centers. Hit the “Where To Recycle” tab in the top nav bar and then enter “VHS”, “Video Tapes”, or “VHS cassettes” and your zip code. You’ll get a list of the nearest drop-off locations that will accept VHS tapes. Earth911.com can also find you recycling centers for many other household items.

Where to recycle VHS and cassette tapes in San Francisco

These locations can help you with VHS tape recycling:

Community Thrift Store

623 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 861-4910
https://www.communitythriftsf.org/

St. Anthony’s Foundation

101 8th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 592-2826
https://www.stanthonysf.org/

Marian Residence for Women (St. Anthony’s Foundation)

1171 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 592-2822
https://www.stanthonysf.org/

Raphael House

1065 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 474-4621
https://www.raphaelhouse.org/

Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling

7th St. & Berry St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 626-4000
https://www.recology.com/recology-san-francisco/

Sunset Scavenger

250 Executive Park Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94134
(415) 330-1300
https://www.recology.com/recology-san-francisco/

Recycle your VHS tapes and audiocassettes with GreenCitizen!

Anyone in San Francisco or the surrounding area can drop off their VHS and cassette tapes at GreenCitizen’s Burlingame Recycling Center/EcoCenter. You can also include data tapes or VHS tapes in your business electronic recycling pickup request. Because it’s costly to recycle and destruct tapes, GreenCitizen charges a small recycling fee. Our fees are listed on the Recycling center page and the business pickup request page.

Since it’s cost-prohibitive to manually separate the magnetic tape from its plastic housing, GreenCitizen will track each tape and issue a certificate of destruction. It’s also a bad idea to send the tapes to landfill, so we physically destruct the tape with our hard disk and tape destruction machine. We then send the tapes to Covanta, our energy-to-waste incineration partner in California’s Central Valley, to have it incinerated. This is the safest way to ensure that all confidential data are destroyed and all metals are reclaimed. It’s also the most environmentally responsible way to recycle tapes.

Thank you for doing your part to recycle VHS and cassette tapes. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!

Paint Recycling and Why You Should Do It

Paint cans for paint recycling
Updated October 2018

Paint cans for paint recycling

Ever wonder what you do with your old paint, besides stashing it in an isolated corner of the garage?

If you have half-empty alkyd or latex paint cans lying around, you can try donating them to your local community. Plenty of high school drama clubs and community theaters need extra paint. But if reuse isn’t feasible, it’s time for paint recycling!

Paint recycling benefits more than just your DIY project. It’s also better for the environment. For example, latex paint (water-based) can transform into new paint or mixed together to make unique colors. Just using 1 gallon of recycled latex paint saves 100 kilowatt-hours of energy while keeping 115 pounds of carbon dioxide out of our precious air.

Keep in mind that alkyd and latex paint types have different disposal methods:

How to Recycle Alkyd and Latex Paint

Unfortunately, alkyd (oil-based) paint cannot be recycled and needs to go to your local household hazardous waste program. If you can’t find one, dry the paint out with kitty litter or newspaper and throw it in the garbage.

Latex paint, on the other hand, is recyclable. You can take it to any special collection events or paint recyclers in your area. Don’t just throw it away in the blue recycling bin. There are plenty of locations nearby that will happily take your old paint cans!

Where to Recycle Your Old Paint in San Francisco

  • Brownies Hardware: 1563 Polk Street, (415) 673-8900
  • Cole Hardware (all locations): 70 4th Street, (415) 200-3444; 956 Cole Street, (415) 319-6705; 345 9th Street, (415) 200-2154; 627 Vallejo Street, (415) 200-2215; 2254 Polk Street, (415) 200-3370
  • Golden City Building Supply, 1279 Pacific Street, (415) 441-0941
  • Last’s Paint, 2141 Mission Street, (415) 437-0633
  • Speedy’s Hardware, 1061 Folsom Street, (415) 699-5481

Where to Recycle Paint Outside of San Francisco

Overall, the U.S. has a solid structure of paint recycling programs. For instance, Paintcare has a cool program to recycle paint in four states. If you don’t live in one of those states, you can use their search engine (powered by earth911.com) to find a paint recycler nearby.

Don’t let leftover paint cans go to waste. Adopt reuse and recycling best practices to make a positive impact on the environment. GreenCitizen is dedicated to partnering with YOU to act and encourage real environmental change. Thank you for doing your part!

If you have any questions about paint recycling, please call us at (650) 493-8700 or chat with us online.

Written by Jake Hanft

How to Dispose of Light Bulbs Safely for Recycling

Light Bulb Recycling - disposing off your old incandescent, halogen, fluorescent and LED lights instead of throwing in trash

Updated August 2019

How do you dispose your light bulbs? If you simply throw them away in the trash bin, consider light bulb recycling instead. While most light bulbs aren’t hazardous, they do offer some recyclable components.

Before we get into light bulb recycling, it’s important to understand the different types of bulbs. You’ll find: incandescent, compact fluorescent (CFLs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and halogen lights. Generally, all four types can be recycled in the same place. There’s even a nice network of recycling sites nationwide and in San Francisco.

With so many out there, it’s hard to keep track of how to dispose light bulbs. That’s why we’ve created this quick guide to get you started!

How to recycle incandescent light bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs usually don’t contain any hazardous chemicals. Because of this, they are pretty easy to recycle. Simply place your burnt out light bulbs in the recycling bin or drop off at the nearest recycling center. If broken, please wrap in some sort of padding for safety.

How to recycle halogen light bulbs

Commonly used as outdoor flood lights, halogen bulbs are more advanced than regular incandescents. While they are more efficient, they burn at a higher temperature and cost more. These bulbs usually don’t contain hazardous materials and can safely be recycled. Place them in the recycling bin or drop off at a recycler.

How to recycle LED light bulbs

These bulbs are 90% more efficient than incandescents and contain no hazardous chemicals. This makes disposing of LED light bulbs easy. While you can safely throw them away in a trash or recycling can, these bulbs have recyclable components. So take them to your local recycler instead to make sure they’re put to good use.

How to recycle fluorescent light bulbs

You might be wondering, “Can I put fluorescent light bulbs in the trash?” The answer is no. These bulbs contain about 4 milligrams of mercury, a toxic metal. Broken CFL bulbs can be hazardous to the environment and water supply if left in a landfill (for information about what to do when a light bulb breaks, check out our blog here). Because of their toxicity, don’t throw these light bulbs in with other trash or recycle items. You must keep fluorescent light bulbs separate when recycling. Bring them to the nearest qualified recycling center.

Now all you have to do is find your nearest light bulb recycling center!

Light Bulb Recycling Locations in San Francisco

Cliffs Variety
(415) 431-5365
479 Castro St
San Francisco, CA 94114
www.cliffsvariety.com/

Rainbow Grocery
(415) 863-0620
1745 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94103
www.rainbow.coop/

City Lights
(415) 863-2020
1585 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94103
http://citylightssf.com/

Light Bulb Recycling Locations Outside San Francisco

Most hardware stores, including Ace Hardware, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, have light bulb recycling programs. These programs vary by location, so it’s a good idea to call in advance. We recommend using the Earth911 website. Here, you can search for the light bulb recycling locations closest to you.

Thank you for doing your part when recycling light bulbs! If you have any questions, feel free to call us at (650) 493-8700.

How to Recycle Batteries?

electronics waste in africa

Make sure your batteries don't end up in a landfill!In 2001, around 500,000,000 batteries were bought in California. Of these, approximately 497,000,000 were not recycled, according to the Household Universal Waste Generation in California report. It is illegal to throw batteries in the trash in California, as the chemicals in batteries, especially lead, leek out and contaminate our soil and drinking water when placed in landfills. Fortunately, California has made significant strides in this area in the past decade, and now we have a solid network of places that accept batteries for recycling. That’s it for the side salad of background information. Here is the meat and potatoes. As usual, thanks for recycling.

Bay Area

GreenCitizen – Yep, we accept batteries. Bring ‘em in to our Berkeley, San Francisco, or Palo Alto locations, along with any electronics you would like to recycle (we do not accept batteries at our Burlingame location).

Additionally, the following national businesses accept batteries for recycling in the Bay Area.

• Lowes
• Best Buy
• Home Depot
• Staples
• OSH
• Radio Shack
• Some Apple stores
• Some Ace Hardware stores

Outside the Bay

For readers outside the Bay Area, a helpful resource is the Environment, Health, and Safety Online website. They have a special page for batteries where you can look at an interactive map of battery recycling sites near you. The EHSO website has a wealth of information on for consumers, though it can be somewhat difficult to navigate.

Written by GreenCitizen staff writer Jake Hanft. Please contact him at jake.hanft@greencitizen.com with questions.

Current US Electronic Waste Laws

Current US Electronic Waste Laws

Federal Governments Takes First Steps to Develop a National Strategy for Electronic Waste

Until recently the EPA, and Federal Government has barely monitored or acknowledge the disposal for ‘end of life electronics.’ On November 8th the Council of Environmental Integrity, established an interagency task force to develop a national strategy to improve handling of used electronics.

Currently, electronics are not viewed as hazardous or toxic waste by the United States Federal Government. Items such as CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors, laptops, televisions, and phones are classified as universal waste. This is a category of waste that is deemed “lower risk” hazardous waste.  Right now there are no Federal electronic waste recycling laws. The Federal laws in place presently related to electronic waste require items containing mercury such as CRTs and light bulbs to be labeled as universal waste. Handlers must try to prevent spillage and leakage of universal waste and have a cleanup plan. Handlers of universal waste are subject to much lower export and handling standards then those who handle hazardous waste. For specific requirements involving universal waste management refer to http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastetypes/universal/mce.htm. Current policy leads to high exportation of electronics to China and Africa where they are “recycled” in substandard conditions.

Many experts such as Jim Puckett of The Basal Action Network believe electronics must be handled and regulated as hazardous waste. Electronic waste contains a myriad of toxic components including Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Polybrominated Flame Retardants, Barium and Lithium. Even the plastic casings of electronics products contain Polyvinyl Chloride. The toxins found in electronic waste affect nearly every system in the human body. The health effects of these toxins on humans include birth defects, brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage. They will also significantly affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body.

With recent attention to the issues involving electronic waste disposal, the President called on Federal Agencies to develop a national strategy for electronics stewardship, including procedures for how the agencies manage their own e-waste.  The Council of Environmental Quality created the Interagency Task Force on Electronics Stewardship. Their mission is for American businesses, government and individuals to work together and manage electronics throughout the whole lifecycle.  There deadline to produce a national frame work by May 2011, can’t come soon enough. For details on the plan see http://circuitsassembly.com/blog/?p=1694