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How to Recycle Video- & Audiotapes

Clear Out Your Closets & Put Old Tapes to Good Use

by Eric Roalson

Video- and audiotapes may be relics of the late 20th century, but for those of us over 30, those vestiges of the analog age may still be collecting dust on shelves or in storage units. How do you get rid of those old tapes without tossing them into our already swollen landfills?

I was an avid collector of music, movie, and spoken word tapes for years, and I wanted to clear these out from my home in an ecologically responsible way. In researching this problem, I found some useful and sometimes surprising answers.

Commercial Tapes

You might be able to take your commercially released audiocassette and videocassette (VHS) tapes to a consignment store, but call first to make sure they’re still taking them. You’re likely to have luck at a Goodwill Store. You can also post them on Craigslist, Freecycle, and other websites where you can list items to give away. People collect just about everything!

You might also inquire at your local library. The Iowa City Public Library accepts donations of video- and audiotapes (including books on tape). They sell them very cheap at their in-house store, Bookmarks, with profits benefiting the library through the Friends Association.

Be creative. Churches and retirement centers sometimes have lending libraries.  These places might also welcome your VHS movies and audio books on tape.

Personal Use Tapes

Back in the 1990s, you may have bought VHS tapes or audiocassettes so that you could record Jurassic Park off HBO or tape your favorite Beatles songs. If you’re like me, you may also have some blank tapes sitting around that you never got around to using. These are a little more difficult to get rid of, but I found a few happy surprises in this department.

For instance, you can donate them to a good cause such as iLoveSchools, a website-based service through which you can donate supplies to schools. Often teachers have very limited budgets and these donations can help enhance the learning environment for their students. 

My girlfriend and I posted 40 blank audiocassette tapes on this website, wondering if any teacher would want them. We were pleasantly surprised when we got eight requests for these tapes from Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and other states.  We chose two teachers from this bunch to be the recipients. 

It was gratifying to help out teachers and their young students while at the same time reducing the clutter in our homes. Moreover, we received appreciative emails from the teachers. One said that she would use them “to record reading books or copy books on CDs, so that my students can follow along for fluency.” This is a great way to donate anything you want to get rid of that might be used constructively by teachers in their classrooms.

What do you do with personal use tapes that you’ve already used? I sent mine to a recycling facility called Green Disk.  You pay a small fee for a label online that  allows you to ship boxes of videocassettes and audiocassettes to them. Green Disk also recycles a wide range of techno trash, from PCs to printer cartridges. Check their website and you may be able to get rid of more than just tapes.

I found a program called ACT, Alternative Community Training, a not-for-profit agency that has been cleaning, degaussing, and re-packing video tapes since 1991. This agency provides needed jobs for disabled people, so it is a wonderful service. You will have to pay shipping costs, but then you can also write it off your taxes as a donation. In the meantime, you have helped people find employment as well as putting your tapes to good use.

Analog to Digital Conversion

You can easily replace most of our video and audio collection by purchasing them in digital forms. But what do you do with a wedding video or the only recordings of your high school garage band?  Luckily, you can also convert these into 21st century formats. For example, you can download a free software program called Audacity that will allow you to record your audiocassettes onto your computer. From there you can burn a CD.

You can buy combination VHS/DVD machines that allow you to record from videotape to DVD (but not the other way around). You can also purchase a video transfer device to record from analog to digital.

Let the Decluttering Begin!

Your audiotapes and VHS tapes don’t need to gather cobwebs in your closets. As you can glean from this research, there are many ways that you can donate or recycle these antiquated items in ways that are good for the earth and good for people, too.

Visit the index for more articles on green living.

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