Recycling Software and CD Packaging

Play It Again, Sam

10-01-2005 // Doreen Cubie

Each year, millions of boxes of software CDs go to landfills and incinerators, and people throw away millions more CDs and DVDs; all of them can be recycled or reused

Twenty-five years ago, they didn’t even exist. Today, most of us can’t imagine life without compact discs and DVDs. With them, we play games and music, store photos and save computer files. Unfortunately, we’re also discarding them—along with their protective “jewel” cases—in rapidly increasing numbers. Indeed, by some estimates, more than 10 billion CDs and DVDs will be tossed into the trash by consumers and companies during the next five years alone. And that’s a problem.

“They’re not biodegradable,” says Raoul Clarke, a hazardous waste specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “They’ll only end up adding tons of plastics to landfills.”

Both CDs and DVDs—which are primarily composed of polycarbonate, a type of plastic—can be recycled or reused. So can the jewel cases, which are made from a hard plastic called polystrene. Worldwide, a number of companies have begun collecting and grinding down discs, with the resulting materials eventually making their way into such diverse products as electric cable insulation and automotive parts.

Most of these businesses accept only large deliveries of discs from software companies and other manufacturers. But two that allow individuals to recycle their e-waste are GreenDisk (www.greendisk.com) and Ecodisk (www.ecodisk.com). You can send up to 20 pounds of CDs, DVDs and computer disks to GreenDisk for a nominal fee. Clarke, who is concerned about the amount of electronic waste being generated by his agency, is planning to buy several “Technotrash Can” containers from GreenDisk. These cardboard containers, which are designed for businesses and organizations, hold up to 70 pounds of e-trash. When they are full, GreenDisk picks them up, destroys all the data and emails a certified audit report of the completed process.

A good alternative to recycling is reusing CDs and DVDs whenever possible, says Meryl Klein, director of outreach for Earth 911, a national clearinghouse for community-specific environmental information. One option: Organize a CD/DVD exchange with friends, family or coworkers. “If they’re in good working order, you can always donate CDs to libraries or schools,” adds Klein. She also suggests giving unwanted discs to organizations that can make use of them. The nonprofit group Recycle for Breast Cancer, for example, resells the discs and applies the profits to help fight this disease.

With a little creativity, you can come up with other ways to rethink compact discs. “I made a funky mirror for my son’s room,” says Klein. She points out that schools sometimes need large quantities of discs for art projects. Other possibilities include turning CDs into coasters (glue felt to the bottom) or high-tech scarecrows (run a string through the holes and hang them in the garden).

Another way to cut down on the number of discs and jewel cases you dispatch to landfills is to minimize the number that you buy. For example, if you’re purchasing or upgrading software, check to see whether it can be downloaded from the Internet. You may not need a disc at all. Also available are rewritable compact discs (CD-RWs) with cases made from recycled plastic and packaging made from recycled paper. Only the disc is new. If you’re primarily storing data, rewritable CDs are a good idea. They can be reburned many times. Also, consider switching to rewritable DVDs, which hold nearly seven times as much data as a compact disc.

South Carolina journalist Doreen Cubie wrote about natural landscaping in fire-prone areas in the June/July issue. To find locations for recycling and reusing CDs and DVDs, go to www.earth911.org or call 1-877-Earth911. Enter your zip code and you will get information tailored for your area.

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