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A Complete Guide on How to Recycle VHS Tapes and Cassette Tapes

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A single VHS tape contains 1,410 feet of tape reel, so they’re very hard to dispose of safely. To this day, there are still millions of unused VHS and audio cassette tapes out there littering garages, attics, and old shelves.

VHS tapes stopped being produced in 2008 and VHS players have not been made since 2012. These VHS tapes are as dead as the dodo, and there’s no sign of them making a comeback. DVDs and streaming have long taken tapes’ place as the movie formats of choice.

So, are you wondering what to do with old VHS tapes you have on hand? Can VHS tapes be recycled?

Absolutely!

But it’s not that simple. Turns out, VHS recycling is difficult.

Why Is It Important To Recycle VHS Tapes?

It’s important to recycle VHS tapes because the Mylar plastic tape inside is coated with metals considered to be hazardous waste, while the rest is made from #5 plastic which will take centuries to degrade.

However, this also makes recycling VHS tapes difficult. You can’t simply throw them into the plastic recycling bin or bring them to the landfill.

Why?

Because if they sit in the landfill for too long, the toxic metals in VHS tapes will seep into the ground.

san francisco how to recycle vhs tapes

VHS tapes will degrade over time. Even with being kept in climate control and whatnot, things will adhere, the tape will get weak, and it will lose quality over time for just sitting.


Christopher Rokosz, Digital Lifestyle Expert

recycling cassette tapes

Another reason why it’s difficult to recycle VHS tapes is because they’re not cost-effective.

The same can be said when you recycle cassette tapes.

Here's the thing: The value of getting anything useful out of them is below the cost in person-hours required to break the tapes down for plastic recycling.

In fact, next to Styrofoam, those two things might be the most difficult household items to recycle.

 So, what to do with VHS tapes? How can you get rid of them if they won’t go into the local plastic recycling bin?

Read on to find out.

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 tapes were 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 instead of tapes.

A vhs tape player from JVC

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the two popular videotape formats were VHS and Betamax. Betamax, Sony Corporation’s competing video tapes format, was released in Japan on May 10, 1975.

“Beta” was superior in many ways, but it was also more expensive. Because of this, VHS tapes ultimately won the market for home video tapes.

What Are VHS Tapes Made From?

VHS tape close up

VHS tapes are made from #5 plastic and Mylar.

The outside case is made from #5 plastic (polypropylene), which will take centuries to biodegrade (via microorganisms) or photodegrade (via sunlight).

The plastic tape inside, on the other hand, is made from Mylar (polyethylene terephthalate). It’s a #1 plastic that’s coated with chromium, iron oxide, and other metals considered to be hazardous waste.

With all this information in mind, how should you know what to do with old VCR tapes?

We’ll tell you about that in a while, but first…

How About Computer Data Tapes?

Computer data tapes have similar disposal and recycling issues to old plastic VCR tapes.

For decades, old computer data tapes were widely used to back up data on mainframe and minicomputers used by businesses, institutions, government, and the military.

The data stored on these old tapes are often highly sensitive. Whether it’s backup data from a hospital, a bank, or a loan company, it’s all confidential information about people and businesses.

computer magnetic data tape

In the United States, you can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to closing more than 60 large coal-fired power plants if you recycle VHS tapes with GreenCitizen.

As such, recycling old data tapes should be done with great care to avoid identity theft and security breaches from the tape’s sensitive information.

How To Get Rid Of VHS Tapes For Money

Depending on the content and condition of your VHS tapes and audiotapes, they might be worth something to somebody. People recycle and collect all kinds of things, including VHS tapes!

These are the different ways that you can get rid of VHS tapes for money:

  • If you can’t recycle VCR tapes, you could sell them online to the highest bidder. We’ve seen rare ones go for as much as $9,000!
  • You can also get rid of them by bringing the buyers to you via a yard sale or a Craigslist ad.
  • While the stores that used to sell and rent VHS tapes are mostly out of business, you can still find music stores that might be interested in trading a VHS tape or an audio cassette for cash.
  • There are still a few people in the world who love audio and VHS tapes as a recording medium, and they might be interested in recycling your VHS tapes collection as raw materials to erase, reuse, and recycle.

Where to Donate VHS Tapes

If you’re looking to donate or recycle VHS tapes in the modern age, you’re mostly going to be dealing with niche markets and collectors. [1]

Here are some of the places where you can donate VHS tapes:

Local recycling companies

recycling-at-greencitizen-location-700x350

First things first, check if there is a local recycling company you can donate them to. Some local recycling services have specialized VHS tapes recycling services.

Libraries or charity shops

donated vhs tapes in a library

You could also donate VHS tapes to library services or to a local charity shop if they accept them.

Vintage shops and record stores

vhs tapes at a vintage record shop-1

You can also try looking for local vintage shops and old record stores that may sometimes get customers that are interested in VHS tapes and cassettes.

Waste can be reclaimed as a resource—something of value, rather than something to discard—to reduce the use of raw materials and energy.


The Drawdown Report

How to Reuse VHS And Cassette Tapes

If you’re wondering what to do with VHS movies, wonder no more. If you’re crafty, there are many ways you can reuse and recycle VHS tapes (and their cases).

For example, you can recycle and repurpose plastic VHS tape cases into tote bags and purses as seen in the video below.

People also often make interesting lights and lamps from VHS tapes. You can recycle the clear plastic windows in the front of the tapes to emit light.

For example, this YouTube tutorial uses the tape to create a beautiful lamp.

How Can I Save My Content From VHS Tapes, Data, And Cassette Tapes?

Want to know how to dispose of VHS tapes and cassette tapes while keeping your precious memories alive?

Before recycling or sending tapes off for VHS disposal, you should save that irreplaceable content by converting your VHS tapes to digital format. [2]

For this, I recommend Legacybox because it’s the most dedicated company to offer professional quality video digitizing services. 

They helped me convert all my old VHS tapes to the digital formats of my choice — whether it was to a DVD, a USB drive, or to the cloud.

Their Convert Video To Digital service is compatible with many different systems, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of looking for any other service to digitize all your old media.

Digitizing VHS tapes using the Legacybox-Convert-Video-to-DVD-Service

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To use their service, all you need to do is order a Legacybox kit. Once you receive your kit, just pack your VHS tapes along with the safety barcode labels that come with it. This is to make sure that all your tapes are properly tracked and accounted for. Then send the kit back to them (for free). 

After that, they'll send you back your newly digitized videos along with your original VHS tapes within a reasonable amount of time.

What one of the things I appreciate the most about Legacybox is that you get regular personalized email updates about your items, giving you peace of mind that your memories are being well-taken cared of. No other digitizing service does that as far as I know.

If you don't want to use a convenient service, and would prefer to convert your tapes to digital on your own, here are VHS-to-digital converters you can check out:

Meanwhile, what do you do with old cassette tapes once you're ready to get rid of them? How can you convert their contents to digital format?

Good thing is, Legacybox can also convert your audio cassette tapes to whatever digital format you choose.

With their Convert Cassette Tapes to Digital service, any kind of tape is fair game for conversion, whether it's a compact cassette, audio cassette, reel-to-reel tape, or cassette tape.

Legacybox is popular for a lot of users because their professionals, technology, and facilities are some of the best in the industry when it comes to digitizing analog media.

Their prices are reasonable as well, which allows you to preserve your priceless moments without burning a hole in your pocket.

I like them because they have allowed me to breathe new life back to my analog media and recover important memories, which is the whole point, isn't it?

Digitizing cassette tapes using the Legacybox-Convert-Cassette-Tapes-to-Digital-Cassette-to-CD-Service

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Again, if you want to take the risk of converting your tapes to digital on your own instead of using a professional service like Legacybox, here are cassette-to-MP3 devices that you can use:

How to Recycle VHS Tapes And Cassette Tapes

You can recycle VHS tapes and cassette tapes with GreenCitizen. Both businesses and individuals can avail of our recycling services for those items.

For businesses

  1. Head to our business recycling pickup page and schedule a pickup of your old tapes. We do local business recycling pickups every Monday to Friday from 9am-6pm.
  2. Fill out the form on our page, giving us all the necessary details about your business and the VHS tapes you’re recycling.
  3. Click on the Request Pickup button so we can start helping you get rid of them easily.
  4. You can also opt to mail them to us for a more hassle-free experience. Just head to our mail-in recycling page and fill out our mail-in recycling form. The whole process is fast and easy, and you can see it in full in that page.

For individuals

  1. Pack up your used VHS tapes and drop by our Burlingame EcoCenter located at 1831 Bayshore Highway, Suite 2, Burlingame, CA 94010. Our recycling center is open every Monday to Saturday from 10am-6pm.
  2. Please note that we charge $1 per pound to recycle VHS tapes and small cassette tapes. You can check our recycling fees page to see which items we recycle for free and which items we cannot recycle.
  3. If you prefer to mail your VHS tapes to us our mail-in recycling page will give you all the instructions on how you can do that.

Here at GreenCitizen, we recycle VHS tapes using the waste-to-energy incineration method.

Considering all the available recycling options from an environmental and data security perspective, we believe this is the best way to recycle videotapes.

This is because waste-to-energy incineration minimizes environmental impact, reduces landfill, and avoids 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.

A pile of VHS tapes that will be recycled

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. [3]

The EfW facility does this by avoiding methane generation at landfills, offsetting greenhouse gases from fossil fuel electrical production, and recovering metals.

It’s important to recycle VHS tapes because the Mylar plastic tape inside is coated with metals considered to be hazardous waste, while the rest is made from #5 plastics which will take centuries to degrade.

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). [4]

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!

In the United States, you can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to closing more than 60 large coal-fired power plants if you recycle VHS tapes with GreenCitizen.

Where To Recycle VHS Tapes And Cassette Tapes

recycle vhs tapes at greencitizen in san francisco-2

As we've mentioned above, you can easily recycle VHS tapes and cassette tapes with us at GreenCitizen.

You can do that by dropping them off at our Burlingame EcoCenter or by mailing them to us.

We can also pick them up for you if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you’re outside the San Francisco Bay Area, you can avail of our mail-in recycling services or use the Green Directory to find locations of other electronic recycling facilities near you.

FAQ

Are VHS tapes recyclable?

Yes, VHS tapes are recyclable. You can recycle them with specialist VHS tape recycling services like GreenCitizen, though there will normally be a fee. You could also choose to send them to a waste-to-energy incineration recycling plant where they will be burned to produce green energy.

Does Best Buy recycle VHS tapes?

Best Buy does not recycle VHS tapes. However, it does recycle old VCRs and camcorders, so there may be some related items that you can send to Best Buy. Depending on the item you’re recycling, they may recycle for free or they may charge a small recycling fee.

Where can I buy old VHS tapes?

You can buy old VHS tapes on websites like eBay. You might also find them on Facebook marketplace groups and other online forums where people buy and sell items. Some charity shops, vintage shops, and record stores might also sell them.

Do charity shops take VHS tapes?

Some charity shops might still take VHS tapes, but many of them will not do so anymore. Unfortunately, VHS tapes just don't sell well in these shops, so they would rather save their shelf space for DVDs. However, some vintage shops and old record stores will sometimes accept VHS tapes and might even pay for them.

Can I throw VHS tapes in the garbage?

You can’t throw VHS tapes in the garbage because when they go to the landfill, they will not decompose for around 1,000 years, which will contribute massively to climate change. Instead, try to recycle, sell, or repurpose them where possible.

Does Staples recycle VHS tapes?

Staples does not currently recycle VHS tapes. If you want to get rid of them, you'll need to use a recycling service like GreenCitizen that does VHS tapes and cassette tapes recycling. You may also be able to send them to a facility that burns trash to produce green energy.

Will pawn shops buy VHS tapes?

Most pawnshops will not buy VHS tapes because they are worth so little. Unless your VHS tapes are rare or are highly sought-after by collectors, then they won't probably be bought by a pawnshop. Pawning them is nonetheless worth a try if you really don’t know what to do with old VHS tapes.

Does Oxfam take VHS tapes?

Some Oxfam shops do take VHS tapes, but it’s not very common these days. Even if you find an Oxfam that does accept VHS tapes donations, they’ll probably only accept only a few pieces rather than a large collection.

Can you donate VHS tapes to Goodwill?

Yes, you can donate VHS tapes to Goodwill. According to their website, they accept several forms of media including VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs, Blu-Rays and vinyl records. So if you don’t know what to do with VHS tapes, Goodwill is a great place to try.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed that guide on how to recycle VHS tapes and cassette tapes. Disposing of them is not easy, but proper disposal of those items is essential for protecting the environment.

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, recycle your VHS and cassette tapes by dropping them off at the GreenCitizen EcoCenter now. Or schedule a recycling pick-up with us.

Did you find this article useful? If you want to learn more actionable strategies for reducing your environmental footprint, check out other articles on our blog.

Looking for more products that can convert your VHS, cassette and computer data tapes to digital format? You can find them (and other sustainable and eco-friendly products) in our 
Green Store.


References

  1. https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/recycling/questions/can-i-recycle-my-old-vhs-tapes
  2. https://www.archives.gov/preservation/formats/video-playback-digitize.html
  3. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2013/04/17/60712/energy-from-waste-can-help-curb-greenhouse-gas-emissions/
  4. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/


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