Can you safely and properly recycle CDs? Yes, but…

Look around your place. How many CDs do you have? How many of them still spark joy? How many have been made redundant by ripping them to some digital storage format? And how many of them will you never, ever listen to ever again? Perhaps it’s time for a cull.

Sure, you could try to sell or trade them, but there’s a very limited market for used CDs, especially ones that no one seems to care about anymore. You can’t throw them out because the plastic will take hundreds of thousands of years to decompose in a landfill.

The responsible thing then would be to recycle them. But how? That’s…complicated. Just ask the City of Calgary which posted this “thanks but no thanks” directive on its website.

The New York Times wrote about a place called the CD Recycling Center of America in Salem, New Hampshire, which goes through great lengths to make sure the plastic, paper, and aluminum in CDs and DVDs can be turned into something that can be reused. They’ll take that unwanted copy of Jagged Little Pill and grind it into tiny granules of polycarbonate plastic that can be used for new plastic products in cars, building materials, and even frames for eyeglasses.

Most of that powder is shipped to China and India for repurposing. The problem is that the price these countries are willing to pay has dropped through the floor, thanks in part to a glut in ground-up CDs that no one wants anymore. Still, there are a number of companies that are trying to do the right thing by disposing of old CDs like GreenDisk.

The NYT article also points out something I never considered: “‘Once a CD is in a trash dump, it can be published to the public domain, and people can take that, sell it and remarket it,'” says David Beschen of GreenDisk. To avoid that, millions upon millions of CDs were being burned and incinerated, which is not a great thing for the environment.

The whole NYT article is worth reading. Go here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Can you safely and properly recycle CDs? Yes, but…

  • November 9, 2020 at 4:45 pm
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    As a site that regularly talks about copyright, you’d think they’d know better than to quote the article when they say “… The NYT article also points out something I never considered: “‘Once a CD is in a trash dump, it can be published to the public domain, and people can take that, sell it and remarket it,’” …“ which is clearly wrong. Copyright is not tied the the physical media, it is owned by the writer and publisher. Throwing out a CD changes nothing.

    Reply
  • November 9, 2020 at 9:39 pm
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    That article just hurts my heart. First, on a musical level and, yes, I did have quite the collection of various non-musical cds that I meant to make something artistic out of but never did. I finally gave them to a friend and he uses them to scare deer away on his orchard/farm. Just about everything can be repurposed. The idea of throwing away a cd, album, cassette, 8-track (godawful things, those) are the same as throwing away a book; horrible, detestable, and quite unconscionable. I’ve always had that violent a reaction (okay, not to 8-tracks but I had to include it because it’s all music as all books are books – even harlequins).

    In the entirety of my music buying life (four decades-ish?), I have only ridden myself of six albums on purpose and that was because I *really* hated two of them and the other four were for artists I boycotted after buying them. I get that the horse was out of the barn at that point but I certainly wasn’t going to have music in my collection for an artist I couldn’t, knowingly, support. I’ll keep music I don’t really like. I figure maybe I might like it. I really have to just despite it at a truly deep level to get rid of it and then it’s off to the charity shop. Never in the bin. It would never cross my mind to do that. I wouldn’t do that with *anything* useable.

    I’m certainly not going to give my ratty old clothes to the charity shop but things in like new shape, of course! And, generally speaking, I keep my things in good shape. Maybe, it’s part of my parents (older) generation coming out in me and part of my own childhood generation of recycling coming out but I’ve always leaned towards buying used (except when I want designer and then I if I have money -which is never- I lose all sense) and sending things to the charity shop when I’m culling. The trash is just no place for things that still have life in them. God, that’s got to be my parents…….ugh. They were depression-era babies. I think I was the only kid (of seven) that had new things. (youngest – raised like an only child)

    My last thought is that I can see the lovely, artistic things that you could make (and I’m no artist – I just see the beauty) with the chopped up bits of cds. The light reflecting…the mosaic of colours…artists would have a field day with that stuff. Glue and paint and mixed media…field day.Oh, and the clothes you could create from that. Think Project Runway’s alternative materials challenge but in real life. I could see a lifetime’s worth of collections made from these things. Who needs sequins or beads? I seriously doubt I am the first person to have thought of this. But geez, to destroy music? I get destroying old aol disks… again, my heart hurts for the things that are lost.

    ps Just because you made that *your example* Jagged Little Pill cd into an mp3 whatever, doesn’t mean you should get rid of the original because if you ever get caught by the folks that track down illegal music and don’t have proof your copy isn’t legal…well that’s on you. Always keep your originals. What’s a little space under your bed or in your garage or what have you?

    Ruins (the one who can’t stop herself from TLDR posts)
    pps I went to a concert for a band that I thought I liked because I took pity on the opening band at a show. They were mediocre. They headlined the concert. They were more mediocre and had really mediocre opening bands. Bought merch beforehand because ‘hey, I liked ’em right?!’ Felt a fool when I realized what I’d done. That’s how bad it is about me keepiing music. I should rate it but it’s too late now. $$$ for designer clothes down the drain 😉

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