Where can I recycle my plastic CD jewel cases?

Where can I recycle my plastic CD jewel cases?

—Bianca Hoffman, Bridgeport, CT

Environmentalists have been worried about CD jewel case disposal ever since compact discs first became popular in the 1980s. Jewel cases are made out of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a petrochemical-based plastic that is notoriously difficult to recycle and has been linked to elevated cancer rates among workers and neighbors where it is manufactured. Also, the lead often added to strengthen PVC can contaminate water, soil and air around PVC manufacturing sites.

Worse yet, because it contains a variety of additives and lacks a uniform composition, PVC is far less recyclable than other plastics. Its quality degrades after only two or three “cycles.” Recycling operations are burdened by having to carefully sort out PVC since it melts into corrosive gases at lower temperatures than other plastics, contaminating whole batches while ruining equipment and raising health concerns. Greenpeace has identified PVC as the least recycled of the six major common plastics used in consumer, household and construction projects. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that less than one percent of total post-consumer PVC is recovered or reprocessed.

As a result, most municipal recycling centers do not accept PVC products, meaning that millions of CD jewel cases either take up room indefinitely in landfills, where they won’t biodegrade, or are incinerated. And unfortunately the burning of PVCs creates airborne dioxins, some of the most toxic carcinogens known to man.

While options for recycling CD jewel cases and other PVC plastics are limited, the Sammamish, Washington-based GreenDisk company will take jewel cases and any other hard-to-recycle “technotrash” (such as defunct printer cartridges, cell phones, compact discs, videotapes and rechargeable batteries) for a fee of $5.95 for up to 20 pounds. GreenDisk then turns the resulting raw materials into GreenDisk-branded office supplies including, you guessed it, CD jewel cases containing at least 76 percent post-consumer waste content. The company makes it easy by charging just one flat fee that covers the collection box and its shipment to the GreenDisk processing facility.

Another way to make use of old jewel cases—as well as the compact discs within—would be for art’s sake. The website Make-Stuff.com suggests reusing jewel cases for picture frames or to show off collections of miniature items (like coins, stamps, butterflies or dried flowers), or as necklace holders. Meanwhile, compact discs themselves, also hard to recycle, can be re-used as reflectors, drink coasters, large poker chips or game pieces, or other fun stuff.

CONTACTS: GreenDisk, www.greendisk.com; Make-Stuff.com, ; Greenpeace, “Why PVC is Bad News,” http://archive.greenpeace.org/toxics/pvcdatabase/bad.html.