Large stack of old VHS tapes ready for recycling.
Large stack of old VHS tapes ready for recycling.
Home /DIY / How to Recycle VHS Tapes: The Ultimate Disposal Guide

How to Recycle VHS Tapes: The Ultimate Disposal Guide

By Kellie Hillis

You are ready to cull your sizable VHS collection or get rid of it altogether. You may be tempted to simply toss these tapes in the trash, but think again: these analog devices contain enough toxic material to be classified as a form of electronic waste. Their harmful metals will eventually start to leach into the landfills in which they end up — and this may eventually harm nearby water or soil.


As the owner of a VHS collection, it is your responsibility to discard of these tapes in an environmentally responsible manner. This is easier said than done, but it is possible to recycle at least some VHS components. In this guide, we show you how.


What are VHS Tapes?

Before you can truly understand how to dispose of VHS tapes, you need to know what they are and how they differ from other types of analog media. Short for Video Home System, these took over during the late 70s and quickly became the go-to for enjoying movies from the comfort of home.   VHS relies on a videocassette recorder (VCR) and cassette tapes, which can be inserted into the VCR. This process exposes the tape and disengages spool locks. The spools and the tape are what makes VHS so effective, and yet, these are both highly vulnerable and difficult to safely discard. 

Disposal Preparation

At this point, you know that you want to get rid of your extra VHS tapes — and you know you want to do it safely. Beyond that, however, you have no idea how to tackle the task or which of the many available strategies will be preferable. It's important to get a basic grasp of your options and their benefits or downsides — only then will you be fully prepared for any caveats that may accompany the donation or recycling process.  

Eco-Friendly Disposal Options

Technically speaking, you always have the option to toss your VHS tape in the trash. As we've discussed, however, this is terrible for the environment and thus, best avoided. Thankfully, numerous other options exist and most of them are eco-friendly. The following are among the most common strategies for dealing with unwanted VHS tapes: 

Recycling Centers

When in doubt, the safest and easiest approach to disposing of VHS tapes involves hauling them to the nearest recycling center. There may be a fee to recycle them, but this varies between locations and may be worth paying if it saves you the hassle of disassembling tapes on your own. Check with your county for local recycling businesses. You may need to call these individually to determine whether they actually accept VHS. 

E-Waste Collection Events

Occasionally, municipalities or community organizations host collection events when all kinds of potentially toxic items can be gathered at once. This is a great time to get rid of VHS tapes, which are often accepted at these events. Collection events are frequently free, so this may be your best chance to get somebody else to handle the hassle of disposal without paying exorbitant fees.

Donating or Re-using

Don't underestimate the willingness of some people to collect and use old VHS tapes. Crafty types rely on these for DIY projects, while others simply enjoy the vintage appeal of class analog devices. If you can find a friend or family member who will accept your collection, you will solve your VHS problems almost immediately. Don't forget that you can complete fun, VHS-based crafts all on your own.


Some charities and thrift stores accept gently used VHS tapes, but your mileage may vary. When in doubt, get in touch with local shops to determine whether they are willing to take your collection off your hands. You could also list your old tapes on your local Buy Nothing page. You might be surprised by how quickly they are claimed.

DIY Recycling Methods

Recycling is a viable means of disposing of your VHS tapes, but this doesn't just mean tossing your tapes in the recycling bin. If you choose to go about this on your own, you will need to take several steps to ensure that all components are properly addressed. 

Separating Components

The first and most cumbersome part of DIY recycling? Separating the components. This means opening the VHS case and removing everything from the tape to the spools and even the smaller pieces contained within. From there, you will need to deal with these pieces separately to ensure that they are properly recycled. 

Plastic Recycling

Once the case is completely free of smaller components, you may be able to recycle it, just as you would with other forms of plastic. Unfortunately, however, this has become more difficult in recent years. Typically constructed from #5 plastic (also known as polypropylene), these cases are not as widely accepted for recycling as they were a few short years ago, and sadly, the once prominent alternative – Preserve's Gimme 5 program — has also been shuttered. Thankfully, this plastic is also the most useful component for upcycling projects. 

Recycling Magnetic Tapes

Unfortunately, the magnetic tape contained within the VHS is even more difficult to recycle than the plastic case. The COO of e-waste recycler GreenDisk explains, "The outside casing is made from different types of plastic...that can be recycled; it’s the Mylar tape that really can’t be." While GreenDisk has managed to come up with some creative, small-scale solutions (such as using magnetic tape to create bags), this is unrealistic for the average person. If you're crafty, you may be able to repurpose this to make jewelry or even a rope. 

Environmental Impact and Benefits

Electronic waste is a huge problem in our landfills. As we have discussed, VHS tapes (like many older forms of analog media) contain toxic metals that easily leach into our water supply. Even the plastic case can have a negative impact, as our landfills are full enough as is.   One person's actions might not seem like a big deal, but remember: collectively, there are a ton of VHS tapes that are now rarely used. If each VHS owner makes a point of carefully reusing or recycling these tapes, the collective impact could be considerable. 

Best Practices for Future Disposal

While there are currently just a few safe solutions for disposing of your VHS tapes, you can take steps to reduce the need for these strategies in the future. This will largely mean transitioning to digital videos instead of relying on analog systems. Chances are, you have already made the switch — but even if you have, you'll want to be mindful of how you handle remaining analog devices moving forward. 

Looking for a Reliable Digitizing Service?

As you develop a strategy for dealing with old tapes, think carefully about what you want to do with more meaningful family videos. Digitization is a great option and, if you're too busy to handle this on your own, you can depend on the team at Legacybox to get the job done. The process is simple: fill our kit with analog media (according to our step-by-step instructions), send it in, and let our experts take care of the rest.  

Start the Digitizing Process Today

The longer you wait to digitize your tapes, the more damage your video footage will suffer. It's time to tackle all aspects of your video collection: both the physical tapes and the precious footage they contain. Our team at Legacybox is happy to help. We offer many conversion services, including video-to-DVD offerings and even the chance to get your videos on a thumb drive or the cloud. The sooner you get started, the better. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Still worried about your VHS tapes? Below, we've answered a few common questions to help you decide what you'll do with these cassettes.  

Does anyone buy old VHS tapes?

VHS tapes can be sold in some thrift stores or to certain collectors, who are always on the hunt for rare treasures. eBay is a great resource, as it allows users to see what tapes have been recently sold and for how much. Videotapes collecting dust can also be listed on Craigslist, or taken to local vintage shops that specialize in physical media. 

What is the best way to destroy VHS tapes?

Recycling centers provide one of the most reliable means of safely discarding VHS tapes, but there is no one best strategy. If you think that you can reuse most parts of the VHS, the most eco-friendly option may actually involve separating the components and incorporating them into your favorite crafts.

Do charity shops take VHS tapes?

Some — but not all — charitable organizations will accept donations of VHS tapes. The same is true of thrift stores. When in doubt, check with organizations to confirm that they are willing to take VHS tapes.
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