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Keep 'Em Spinning: Recycling CDs

When the music stops (or goes digital), there's better options than inserting that disc into the trash can...or microwave.

Do you remember the first CD you owned? Though you didn't ask, I'll tell you that mine was Throwing Copper by Live. Something by Barenaked Ladies was soon to follow, then Weezer, then—well, the list surges into the hundreds, so I'll stop there.

I haven't bought CDs in a few years now, instead pulling bits and bytes over the ol' coaxial. But I still have those CDs—vestiges of a 1990s epidemic that saw grungy tunes, the merciless issuances of Columbia Record Clubs, and Patch parent company AOL playing fast and loose with free trial software (I signed up every time, promise!).

With my music collection securely (and redundantly) digitized, I've stared down that box of CDs countless times, wondering who will blink first—will I find a way to somehow recycle them, or will the plastic biodegrade first? It's literally a standoff for the ages.

There's no easy answer. You can't toss them in with your curbside pickup. And while some may trash them, conscientious consumers know better. Trashing the amalgamation of plastics, aluminums, lacquers and even gold in Burlington County means adding to the virtually-never-to-decompose pile and taking otherwise usable materials out of the production system. Doing the same in Gloucester and Camden counties is even worse; there trash is incinerated and releases noxious chemicals and fumes into the atmosphere.

As with any collection and recycling program, it takes a huge critical mass for it to become an economical solution. There's no official stance in Burlington County for such media waste (which includes CDs and DVDs, as well as the plastic jewel cases, floppy disks, and a variety of other electronic materials). 

A link on the county website for such "Techno Waste" brings you directly to GreenDisk, a Washington state company that accepts and recycles the waste, delivering the raw materials back into the production stream to be remade as auto parts, street lamps or so many other vital goods.

The only problem with this service? It's at the cost of the sender. GreenDisk accepts a wide variety of e-waste, but prices range from $9.95 for a 25-lb. or less box of CDs, to $34.95 for a computer and monitor. Shipping, of course, is additional.

Similarly, the CD Recycling Center of America in Salem, NH, operates a no-cost collection and processing facility. They ask for a little more prep from the sender (separating the discs from the plastic jewel case, for instance), and the shipping's still on you, but their data destruction and recycling service is free (donations are requested). 

Burlington County does have a unique project that diverts some waste from being 'waste' at all. The County Clerk's office operates a collection facility called the County Corner, located near Sears in the Moorestown Mall. CDs and DVDs still in working condition are shipped to military service members overseas, or recovering soldiers back at home.

All this shipping back and forth expends energy as well. So the best bet might be to have a local collection box, and shipping that off en masse once it hits a certain volume. Neither our local schools nor libraries have these collections in place (at least on a permanent basis). Any industrious volunteers want to initiate such a program?

Of course, every form of waste is best stemmed at the source. As storage forms of data, CDs are fast fading into a past littered with VHS and cassette tapes, vinyl records and eight-track cartridges. The game started changing with the file-sharing site Napster, then trumped by iTunes, which has since ceded ground to Pandora and Spotify. The tracks keep playing, but the physical form has effectively disappeared.

Don't let your aging box of CDs win the battle over you. You've stared it down long enough. Send it off to have its next life—don't let it slowly rot in a landfill. That's a track worth skipping.

Herb Dodds May 26, 2012 at 11:48 AM
You can always create a CD or DVD Pharmacy through Musicians On Call. They are a great orginization that puts volunteer musicians into hospitals to play at patients bedsides. The healing power of music is incredible
Zumu May 26, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Check out http://www.zumu.co. You can trade your old CDs, DVDs and Video Games for cash or, you can can donate the proceeds to one our charity partners creating jobs or even saving lives. We reuse or recycle 100% of the products we take in. Reuse is both an effective use of the products and has an extremely low impact on the environment.

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