How to Recycle VHS Tapes and Cassette Tapes

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!


66 Comments on “How to Recycle VHS Tapes and Cassette Tapes

  1. I was looking on your website for ways to recycle VHS tapes and saw that you offered up earth911.com for other locations in which to send my tapes. The website does not seem to be a working website. Do you know of anywhere I can take these in the Detroit, MI area?
    Thanks

  2. Hello,

    I would like to recycle cassette tapes and found that I can bring them to my local Green Citizen center in Berkeley, https://greencitizen.com/ecolocations/, for $0.10 per tape,

    I didn’t see it specifically stated that the tapes are disassembled. Can you please confirm? Do you split the tapes using something similar to the Oreo Separator Machine?

    Thanks!
    Theresa

  3. I’m in Salt Lake and have many VHS tapes that I didn’t want to send to the landfill. I have been looking for a facility who will handle them, with no luck. Thanks for clearly explaining the situation- I will recycle as many parts of these myself as I can.

  4. Hi There,

    I see all you have about video tapes, but do you take audio cassette tapes?

    thank you.

  5. Just where did u actually acquire the concepts to post ““How to Recycle VHS
    and Cassette Tapes |”? Thanks a lot -Phillip

  6. Hi Regina,

    Yes, we do take cassette tapes for 10 cents per tape. Like with VHS tapes, we have to charge because they are so difficult to dismantle. Thanks for your interest! Please let us know if you have any more questions.

    The GreenCitizen Team

  7. Would you take mail in VHS tapes for recycling if I send you 50 cents per tape and audio cassette tapes if I send you 10 cents per tape? Thanks.

  8. Please email me your address so I can mail u my video/tapes and feel secure that they won’t land in a landfill. I tried pulling them apart w eyeglass screwdriver to recycle but difficult. I’m happy to send money order w shipment. Thank you!

  9. Why don’t you just tell people who your downstream recycler is? The people who you “pay” to take the tapes from you.

  10. Where can I throw my VHS and some wires. I’m from chicago,IL please

  11. Hi Gerado. Check out earth911.com for a list of places near you. Earth911.com is a search engine for recycling centers. All you need to do is type in your zip code and the item you would like to recycle (VHS) and earth911 will list the closest drop-off locations to you.

  12. Hi John,

    Thanks for your question. In an industry like recycling, which is naturally opaque and convoluted, it’s important to employ a healthy skepticism, since some many e-waste recyclers claim to be “green.” Our downstream recycler for media (VHS and Cassette tapes) is Sims Metal Management, located in Hayward California. We have to pay Sims by the pound for the media we ship to them. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

  13. Sorry I love all my VHS tapes not planning on giving them away just cause the DVD says so!

  14. Cassettes and VHS tapes have 5 small screws that hold them together. The right size Phillips makes it quite easy. Inside most cassettes their is a small shiny piece of metal that could be used in crafts. You can see it behind the pad.

    If you leave the vhs intact you can use them for shelving. For me they are preferable as most shelves are pretty much standard. Using them for ends all you need horizontal boards and you can adjust the shelves vertically.

    Save the screws to give to someone who has a shop they work in. Just put them in a recycled jar. You will find someone who can use them.

    I still like vhs over discs as they hold 6 to 8 hours, so they actually take up less space than a disc.

  15. So, can I mail you my small VHS movie library? Movies like: “Dakota,” “Primary Colors,” “The Witness,” “Princess Bride,” etc.

    Please respond. I hate to just dump them!

  16. Hi. Above it says to throw away the inside film of a VHS. Other sites say that film is very toxic.

  17. hold 6 to 8 hours, compare against what? DVD?…. really anybody uses things like CD/DVDs in the Internet Era?.

    I have problems, thinking how to throw away all my dvd collection.

    and please 6 up to 8 hours, of bad quality LP video……

  18. Would you accept VHS from a local government in Oregon? I don’t think we have a huge amount – probably less than 50. Please let me know as I can’t find any other place that will recycle them. Thanks.

  19. Thanks for the information about earth911.com. I was able to find several locations to drop off my unwanted VHS tapes. I live in Columbus, Ohio.

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  21. Glad to have found this information. When I was trying to resurrect my old VHS collection last month, I learned that no one manufactures players any more. And one cannot trust used machines that have complicated moving parts (e.g., from Craigslist). So I will disassemble about 300 VHS cassettes and recycle as suggested.

  22. The film (tape) is not “very toxic”. Consider this: In the broadcast industry people were handling recording tapes with bare hands and not necessarily washing their hands before eating for over half a century. Nobody died, nobody even got sick. Stop spreading nonsense.

  23. Senior Centers will sometimes accept VHS tapes. Check with your local one(s) and see if they are interested.

  24. It’s so heartening to read that there are many people who are so eager to recycle that they would pay someone to take their VHS tapes rather than send them to a landfill. My family and I thought I was the only one who thought this way!

  25. Does the San Francisco site (1541 Sloat Blvd) take the VCR video and also audio tapes for $0.10 each recycling? You only mentioned the site in Berkeley.

  26. Hi Karen,

    GreenCitizen no longer collects VHS and other tape based media for recycling. We no longer have a downstream vendor that will accept them and therefore can no longer properly dispose of them.

    Thanks,

    Mallory

  27. Give VHS tapes you don’t want to Goodwill or other thrift stores and let someone else enjoy them. There are many people who still watch tapes, including myself. Players aren’t available new but there are many available at thrift stores. And they can last a long time. I have one I bought in 1986 that’s still working.

    Some people prefer VHS to DVDs, and also there are many persons of limited means who buy both the players and VHS movies for cheap at thrift stores.

  28. Really, there’s simply GOT TO BE someone in the world (if not the USA) with the brains to figure out how to profitably cash in on a new use for old video tape. One hurdle is already crossed in the fact that it is not toxic material. THINK, PEOPLE, THINK! – or has America run out of brains, improvisation and ingenuity? Find a way to make the black tape material valuable so as to motivate people to dig it out of their cassettes – you can QUICKLY mine it out – with just a cordless electric drill with a very small Phillips bit, hurdle Two done. Hurdle Three, mine out the videos at GW and the Salvation Army and thrift shops and flea markets. Then one can wind out the tape onto some sort of weaving device and make table or desk or floor mats, etc. Whatever! Knot the tape and form strands into a curtain across doorways… Maybe these will be good for de-staticking yourself (as you pass through the curtain) in a house full of carpets! Or make floormats that will do the same. JUST DO IT and MORE! Don’t burden the archeologists with wondering what the things are when they dig them out of the dumps in a thousand years! (NOT! For sure, this ain’t gonna happen. Haven’t you heard, the END is near! So be found prepared by Jesus responsibly stewarding our God given resources in ways that benefit others as well as yourself! (Hah! Bet you didn’t see THAT evangelization spiel coming! My email address doesn’t say “evangelart” for nothing!)

  29. can I mail them to you? what do you do with them? I have a lot of cassettes and VHS tapes – no security issues, but would prefer them not to go in the landfill if possible….

  30. I was at my local Best Buy recently and they have a recycling bin between the glass doors for CDs, DVDs and their cases. They also take cables and other items.

  31. Don’t throw your tapes away! They aren’t useless! I was able to have my VHS tapes digitized, I now have all my childhood memories right on my DVD player!

  32. I am the chairperson of a book sale for our public library. This is the last year we will accept donated VHS tapes. I expect to have a lot of them left over after our sale in April, so I was hoping to find a way to recycle or reuse them. Now I understand what the problem is.

  33. TerraCycle does accept VHS tapes. Of course, you do have to pay for the recycling box to ship them. I believe a small box is under $100.

  34. My 70+ VHS tapes are either pirated or home movies, so literally aren’t desirable in any thrift stores. I just want to remark that a quick search on Pinterest literally yields dozens of great ways to REUSE these perfect little plastic building blocks into items for use around the house. I’m so happy they don’t have to go to the dump!

  35. Consider me just the type of person who has a problem understanding anything. I spent a fortune on Reel to Reel tapes and thousands of dollars worth of equipment only to see it replaced by 8 track tapes for $20. each and hundreds of dollar in a player. Only to see everything replaced by audio cassettes and complete stereo racks systems… only to see everything replaced by VHS tapes and laserdiscs and Sony handicams 8 mm and players only to see all that replaced by CD’s and then double density CD’s and then DVD’s. So I have invested a literal fortune in trying to keep up with technology and now someone is suggesting that I take hundreds of tapes containing special information to recycling just to go out and spend more money trying to get information on new types of media. And now the
    green people want you to dump your dvd’s.

    And then you get rid of your vinyl record collection just to discover that DJ’s are still using vinyl and turntables ?? And those album jackets are now collectors items.

    I think the whole world must be crazy… if you like your vhs tapes.. keep them for another 25 years and then think about upgrading to technology instead of buying into every fad.

    Btw…. the life of a CD or DVD is 10 years for data storage. The life of a tape is 25 to 50 years. Where do you want to archive your information…..

  36. Seems like there’s no service in the bay area that will take the vhs tapes off our hands, without as you suggest, taking them apart. Is that right? Is landfill our next option? Thanks for the reply –

  37. The main page text above says “You can donate your VHS tapes to either Goodwill or to the San Francisco Public Library.” Neither of these is true anymore (12/2016).

    The book donation page for Friends of the SFPL https://www.friendssfpl.org/donatebooks.html lists VHS tapes under “What we do not accept.” Goodwill lists VHS tapes only as a disposal problem for which they issued a challenge for the best ideas (the page http://www.goodwill.org/blog/news-updates/san-francisco-goodwill-launches-challenge-to-solve-vhs-disposal-problem/ is undated but a comment from early 2015 says the contest seemed to be over then).

  38. Hi Bill,

    Thank you for letting us know! I have updated the post accordingly.

  39. In Toronto, Canada, there is a social enterprise aim to recycle all media tapes including VHS tapes properly. 2.26 billion tapes were consumed in Ontario alone.
    They now offers mail-in service. http://www.RedPropeller.ca

  40. James, your details above under Video Tape Recycling Options you have specific instructions on how to dispose of video tapes (part recycle part garbage). Can we do the same thing with audio cassettes in San Francisco?

  41. Hello,

    I could not find information from Recology regarding audio tape recycling, so I believe you cannot disassemble and recycle just the plastic. For your tapes, I would recommend going to www,greendisk.com. They are able to take your tapes as is for a small fee!

    Thank you,

    GreenCitizen

  42. I see conflicting info on the site here. Do you still accept VHS tapes for recycling in Burlingame or another site? Happy to pay a fee if necessary. Thanks.

  43. No the best way to recycle VHS tapes is to sell them on ebay. You can get over 1 dollar per each VHS tape.

  44. All the places listed near me confirmed that they did NOT take VHS tapes in 2017.

  45. I have many video tapes to recycle please help me to find a place to take them!

  46. Is it me just thinking this, or will this be a major problem in the very near future? I’ll be 44 in two weeks, so I’ve seen the evolution 1st hand, from 33 1/3s and 45s (there were other speeds too; extra credit for those who leave a comment those speeds!) to 8tracks to memorex’s “is it live?” cassettes, who remembers micro-cassettes? Mainly for audio capture in voice memo handhelds, they could hold a few songs too! Then beta vs VHS! Who remembers having two separate units strung together to form a player?! I do! Then LASERDISC! Same size as an vinyl LP but that quality! (If you could afford the $4,000 player.) walkmans, and then CD tech. Vidcap hardware an software that was easily used in conjunction with a VCR, your $2000 IBM with the warp-speed 166mhz processor! Holy AOL 2.0 Batman! Those chat rooms?! Oh my the good ole days.

    But I digress. I recall my friends and I having hundreds (pal of mine had 3,000 VHS and 1500 beta tapes!) of cassettes, and don’t forget one of my favorite jobs ever- Blockbuster video! 10,000 tapes per store, minimum. Phoenix had 35 stores, I think?

    Seems to me, Mt VHS is looming on the horizon. Figuratively and tangibly.

    Do y’all think so too?

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  48. Hi,
    You all gave me courage! I just recycled two stuffed carloads of VHS tapes at a place called Securis in Maryland. It is a franchise connected to a larger operation in Chantilly, Virginia. Normally they chop hard drives into little bits, and recycle all parts of computers for businesses and government agencies, but once a month they take residential IT recycling, including VHS. There was a per/pound fee. VHS was once so cutting edge! Now it is like buggy whips.

  49. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such fantastic information being shared freely out there.
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  50. I read an article awhile back telling about an Enrichment Center that you can mail your VHS tapes that you recorded favorite shows on and they would disassemble them for recycling. I have misplaced the article. Could anyone out there help me find that address.

  51. I dismantled my cassette tapes and took the plastics to my local recycler. I am about to do the same with my VHS tapes. Is there anywhere I can send the tape that I have removed to have it properly disposed of?

  52. They pay yo 10c per tape or fo you have to pay them 10c per tape. I have hundreds of tgem to get rid of so it would be cost prohibitive if I had to pay them. I’ll just toss them in a dumpster sonewhere if that’s the case.

  53. Do they pay you or do you pay them? They obviously make money on the recycling process so I’m not paying them to make money on my tapes. I have over a thousand vhs tapes to get rid of and if I have to pay them then I will instead just find a dumpster to throw them all in. Thanks.

  54. Any place in the Cincinnati OHIO area where I can take my old VHS tapes to recycle/dispose of?

  55. Hi Mahina,
    Depending where you live, you can visit earth911.com to find a nearby facility. Or you can drop them off in our Burlingame EcoCenter. Let us know if there’s anything else we can assist you with.

  56. Hi Kyle,
    You can check out earth911.com to find a local VHS tape recycling facility. Thanks for your question!

  57. I saw a notice on their site that as of April 2016 (or so) they don’t take audio or videocassettes anymore. They refer readers to the Recycling Center of America or GreenDisk.

  58. I would love to take some VHS tapes off your hands. Having an 80’s themed party. Email me!

  59. I would be happy to pay a small fee to save the earth from a VHS landfill mountain. Is there any health risk to handling the inner tape portion if I dismantle them myself?

  60. I tried earth911 and put in my zip, which is TX. It gave me Mass, Calif, etc.

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