How to Recycle VHS, Computer Data, and Cassette Tapes?

What does VHS stand for?

VHS stands for Video Home System. It 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. 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.

recycle VHS, cassette, tape, data destruction
Data destruction and recycling of VHS, Cassette, Tapes.

How many VHS tapes are out there?

Nobody knows how many VHS tapes 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 audio cassette tapes in homes and businesses that need to be recycled.

What are VHS tapes made from?

The outside case of a VHS tape is made from #5 plastic (polypropylene). The tape inside is made from #1 plastic coated with a few different metals, making it difficult to recycle. The Mylar tape is actually considered hazardous waste due to these metals on its surface. Once waste material is classified as hazardous, recycling it becomes more of a challenge.

How about computer data tape?

Computer data tapes were widely used for decades to back up data on the mainframe and minicomputers used by businesses, institutions, government, and military. Millions of these tapes have similar characteristics of VHS tapes, but they have a much larger capacity and were able to store more data with each technology advance. The downside of data tapes is that they come in many formats which are proprietary to different kinds of mainframe or minicomputers. Another big problem is that the data stored on these tapes is often highly sensitive, which means that they need to be destroyed instead of just recycled. Whether it’s backup data from a hospital, a bank, or a loan company, it’s confidential data on people and business. That’s why computer data tapes must be recycled with great care to avoid identity theft and security breaches.

How can you recycle your VHS tapes, data, and cassette tapes?

VHS tapes, data tapes, and cassette tapes are obsolete technologies that have been replaced by digital media. However, they might still hold precious memories or data that you might need in the future. Before recycling and destroying these tapes, you should convert and store any data or memories to a digital format. Here are some VHS to digital products that can do the job: 

Before recycling your cassette, preserve whatever precious music or audio is recorded there by transferring it to a digital format for storage. Here some cassette to MP3 products that can help you with the task: 

Where can you recycle VHS tapes and data tapes in San Francisco?

Anyone in San Francisco or the surrounding area can drop off their VHS and cassette tapes at GreenCitizen’s Burlingame Recycle Center. 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 Recycle 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.

How does incinerating tapes affect the environment?

Considering the available options for recycling VHS, data, and cassette tapes from an environmental and data security perspective, we 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, 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), for every ton of municipal solid waste processed at an EfW facility, the release of approximately one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the atmosphere is prevented due to 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 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 recycle VHS tapes and cassettes if I’m not in San Francisco Bay Area?

For locations of VHS and cassette tape recyclers, please consult earth911.com, a nationwide 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 find recycling centers for many household items. It’s quick and easy to recycle VHS and cassette tapes!