What Do I Do With Old VCR Tapes?

Mr. Green unspools the answer

By Bob Schildgen

August 19, 2018


Photo by Milkos/iStock

Hey Mr. Green,

What to do with all those VCR tapes that one no longer uses? 

—Sid in Kansas City

Recycling the tapes is a challenge because often recyclers don’t want them, since they contain a mix of various metals and other substances that are difficult to separate. Still, many cartridges that contain the tapes are No. 5 plastic, so you can remove the tape from inside these containers, peel off the paper from the outside, and recycle them with No. 5 plastic. As for the tape itself, you will have to find an appropriate creative reuse. There are plenty of ideas on the internet, ranging from plausible to the exotic, for reuse of both the tapes inside and the containers. 

Visit Earth911 to see if there's a recycler in your area that takes the plastic. If there is, call it to make sure it accepts VCR cases, because policies of recycling centers are constantly changing. If you cannot find a recycler nearby, visit Green Disk. Following its instructions, you can pack the tapes in a box and mail them.

An estimated 10 billion tapes were produced during the 40 years of commercial VCR production, with the last manufacturer phasing them out in 2016, after sales had dwindled to less than a million a year. (DVDs passed VCR tapes in sales by 2001.) Ten billion tapes stacked on their sides would reach a height of about 150,000 miles, more than halfway to the moon.