Given an estimated 10 billion tapes were produced during the 40 years of commercial VCR production, you probably own some, even if you don’t watch them anymore. Like millions of other people, you may be wondering what to do with old VHS tapes. If you have piles of VHS tapes that didn’t sell at your last garage sale for 25 cents each or your favorite local thrift store wouldn’t take them, here are a few ideas for recycling VHS tapes that won’t add to landfill—from actual VHS recycling to creative repurposing or upcycling.
VHS Tapes Aren’t Eco-Friendly!
The outer cases of VHS tapes are plastic, so theoretically they should be recyclable. Unfortunately, the inner tape is made of a phthalate-laden form of the plastic polyethylene (aka Mylar) which isn’t recyclable. Even worse, in order for the tapes to carry a magnetic signal, they were coated with toxic metals (e.g. chromium and iron oxide). When the tapes break down, which they inevitably will, these dangerous metals will leach out into landfills, potentially contaminating surrounding water and soil. As tempting as it may be, don’t throw them out in your garbage can or recycling bin—instead, check to see if local recycling centers accept VHS tapes.
Creative DIY Repurposing
If you’re creative, handy, and love DIY projects, here are a few ideas that might rock your boat as much as VHS tapes did when they first arrived on the scene back in the late-1970s!
Pom-Poms: If you ever experienced snagged VHS tape and ruined it by hastily pulling on it, you’ll love this project. Carefully smash the outer cassette, pull out the tape, and wind it around your thumb and elbow. After you’ve pulled out about half of the spool, tape the bottom and then cut the top. Do the same thing for the second pom-pom and then cheer on your favorite team from the comfort of your easy chair.
Clever Cassette Clock: Remove the guts from inside the cassette and replace it with a quartz clock movement and battery casing.
LED Lamps: This one takes a bit of work and some tools, but the end result will make you the envy of all your friends because these unique lamps look super cool.
Top-Loader VHS Table: You’ll need a piece of plywood and strong glue to create this incredible conversation piece. Two nice perks are that you don’t have to butcher the tapes and can make the table any size you want.
Storage Containers: Remove the guts and store things inside, but paint them a pretty color so a family member doesn’t unknowingly discard them with your trinkets inside.
Another Good Option: Preserve Your VHS Tapes
If you love movies and own a large VHS collection, consider converting them to DVD. If you don’t have the right equipment to convert them or this DIY project isn’t your cup of tea, have this done professionally. At ScanCafe, we offer a level of color correction and manual editing so the final output is as good as or better than the original. We can edit out empty footage, remove tracking errors, stabilize images, and organize the entire movie into chapters with helpful titles. It’s a pain-free and economical way to preserve VHS tapes if you don’t want to transform them into nifty home décor.