Recycle Unwanted CDs?

Dear EarthTalk: How can I recycle my unwanted CDs and DVDs?

— Mike Wells, Oswego, IL

Compact discs (CDs) and digital videodiscs (DVDs) have become the de facto standards for media storage and playback for millions of consumers and businesses around the world. But the very popularity of these inexpensive 5″ diameter discs made of metal, plastic and dye is taking a serious toll on the waste stream.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, more than 45 tons of used CDs are discarded globally every month. Ironically, CDs and DVDs are made from recyclable materials, yet the vast majority ends up in landfills or incinerators anyway. As with minimizing any waste, the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) apply:

For starters, consumers can reduce the number of disks that they purchase. Worldwatch suggests that consumers search online for information and media so as to avoid purchasing CDs and DVDs in the first place. For those situations where virtual media is not available or practical, Worldwatch recommends looking for used CDs and DVDs to save both materials and money. makes finding and buying used discs directly from individual sellers as easy as searching its site for the titles you want. Also, many libraries now lend out CDs and DVDs as readily as they do books.

For the discerning craftsperson or fun-loving kid, reuse means turning old discs into key components in any number of toys and decorations. Crafty end uses include turning them into disco balls by gluing them to a hanging ball, making drink coasters by attaching cork to one side, or attaching them to roadside fences or bicycle seat-posts to serve as safety reflectors. The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) offers tips on how to turn an old CD or DVD into a model of the planet Saturn. Indeed, the sky’s the limit with what can be done with old discs.

Those looking to recycle CDs and DVDs have several options. The best deal financially is to sell your unwanted discs to retail stores that sell used titles. Trading with friends or co-workers is another waste-free option. Beyond selling or trading, NESAR Systems of Darlington, PA and MRC Polymers of Chicago, IL will take and recycle old disks at no charge (you pay postage) and use the raw materials to make new discs. Likewise, GreenDisk of Redmond, WA will recycle CDs and DVDs, as well as a wide range of other technology-related refuse, for a fee of 10 cents per pound to cover labor costs (again, you pay postage).

All these options aside, the best scenario is to not have to get rid of old CDs and DVDs in the first place. Consumers should only buy CDs and DVDs which they intend to keep, and should ask to be taken off mailing lists that generate junk mail with enclosed CDs. With so many eco-responsible options available these days, sending old discs to the “circular file” surely makes no sense.

CONTACTS: Worldwatch Institute, (202) 452-1999;; NASA Space Place: Saturn Model,; NESAR Systems, 420 Ashwood Road, Darlington, PA 16115, (724) 827-8172; MRC Polymers, 3307 South Londale Ave., Chicago, IL 60623, (773) 890-9000; Greendisk, 16398 NE 85th St., Redmond, WA 98052, (425) 883-9165,