The Time Has Come: Ideas For Recycling & Reusing Your Old VHS Tapes
Few things scream "pre-2000" louder than VHS tapes. In the age of Netflix, it's hard to believe that we ever got such a thrill out of collecting these clunky little contraptions. But collect we did. And unless you still have a functioning VCR player (I feel old just typing these words), chances are you have a tall pile of now-obsolete tapes on your hands.
Here are a few eco-friendly ways to recycle and reuse these relics and potentially make some money along the way.
Can VHS tapes be recycled?
A quick scan through my local recycling rules shows that VHS tapes cannot be recycled in my area, and I expect it's the same for you. In most places, they fall under the category of electronic waste, which is notoriously tricky to dispose of responsibly.
As David Beschen, the CEO of e-waste recycler Greendisk previously told mbg, recycling these items requires breaking them down into their constituent parts (in the case of VHS tapes: a plastic outer shell and a multilayer magnetic film), which can then be resold to suppliers who incorporate these parts into something new. The tricky thing is that in order for this process to make sense financially to a recycler, they'll need a lot of materials.
Most curbside programs can't justify collecting these tapes since they can't guarantee that they'll get enough of them to profit off of. That's where independent companies that collect e-waste for a fee come in. We'll share more on those below. For now, just remember that VHS tapes don't belong in your blue bin or your trash can, as they can leach harmful materials and metals into landfills.
Can you sell VHS tapes?
So, where does that leave those of us who have tons of these tapes at home and no way to use them? That's the question I posed to Tracy McCubbin—a professional organizer who takes an eco-minded approach to decluttering.
Whenever she works with clients who have tons of old VHS tapes (pretty often, it turns out), the first thing she has them do is separate them into two piles: Home videos and commercial tapes of movies, shows, etc.
Home videos can be brought into the 21st century and digitized through services like Costco or LegacyBox. That second category, however, can be resold—and you might be surprised by how much money you can get for them. "Interestingly, there's a little bit of a market for the produced tapes right now," says McCubbin, who notes that they've become a collectors’ item for those who still have working VCR players, even though these officially stopped being sold back in 2016.
I believed it when I saw it. I spotted a VHS tape of the '90s kid classic Air Bud during a recent trip to my local vintage shop, and a scroll through eBay revealed that some people are willing to pay upward of $100 for untouched VHS tapes of classic movies like Air Bud.
Here are a few places to look into selling. You can also batch your lower-value VHS tapes in a bundle and sell them that way to quickly get all of them off your hands and make a few dollars doing it.
Where to donate old VHS tapes.
If you're having trouble getting money for your VHS tapes but they're still in workable condition, the next step is to check if your local Goodwill will accept them. You can also offer them up for free on community secondhand shopping platforms like Freecycle, Buy Nothing, or Facebook Marketplace (which has a free section too). This will connect you to people in your area who might be interested in coming to pick your tapes up and get some more use out of them.
Where to recycle old VHS tapes.
While ideally, you'll be able to keep these tapes in use, sometimes it's just not in the cards and you do need to recycle them.
If that's the case, you have a few options: First, look to see if your city or town has an e-waste collection drop-off zone by scanning this database. You'll likely find that there is either a local store that accepts drop-offs or an occasional disposal event that you can attend. If you go this route, McCubbin recommends using it as an opportunity to get rid of all the old electronics you have lying around the house. Just make sure to wipe things like laptops and cellphones first in case they have any sensitive information on them.
You can also look into companies that offer bulk recycling services for a fee, such as GreenDisk and TerraCycle. For $60 to $130, they'll send you a box to fill with various types of electronics and disks to send back to them, overcoming barriers of volume and cost. While the price tag is a bit steep for some old hunks of plastic, McCubbin adds that you can split a box with friends and neighbors to bring the cost down and help everyone clear out clutter responsibly.
Some Best Buy stores collect old VHS tapes for recycling too, so that's another spot to check.
Repurposing the tapes at home.
One final idea for the craft lovers out there: Rework your VHS tapes into something brand new. Creative folks around the world have repurposed these blasts from the past into purses, birdhouses, clothing, and more. Whether it's a TV stand made of stacked tapes or decorations crafted from film, what will you create?
The bottom line.
That stack of old VHS tapes has taken up residence in your home for too long, wouldn't you agree? Give those tapes a second life by selling or donating them or responsibly disposing of them through a recycling service. Reward yourself by flipping on the movie of your choice with the click of a finger and making a plan to recycle that pile of old clothing and plastic bag collection next.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.