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Q. Dear Umbra,

I have a large collection of CDs from the ’90s and early ’00s. The CDs are stored in a wallet, but I’m not sure what to do with all my CD cases. I guess recycle the plastic and paper separately?

Justin J.
Elmhurst, Ill.

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Photo by Vanessa Lynn.

A. Dearest Justin,

Your conundrum is as vexing and pervasive as a Third Eye Blind hit. I’ve given some suggestions for recycling CD cases before, but this time around I have some new material.

First of all, the paper inserts should be easy enough to recycle with your other paper goods, if that’s really the route you want to go. I know many people get sentimentally attached to the liners for the art, lyrics, and what have you. But yes, they’re generally recyclable.

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If you wish to recycle the plastic cases, you might have a bit of a tougher go. These are #6 plastic (polystyrene), which may be recyclable where you live — be sure to check with your local authorities. Since #6 is not as wildly popular as, say, Maroon 5 in its heyday, a better bet might be one of several outfits around the country that will recycle these items for you; generally your costs are just for shipping. Check out GreenDisk, which takes all manner of “technotrash,” from iPods to X-rays; CD Recycling Center of America, which has several locations around the country; and CD Recycling Central, based in California, which recycles other e-waste items too.

What happens to your CD cases when you send them off this way? According to Earth 911, they are simply recycled into new plastic items, which we hope will be useful to someone — and then eventually recycled again.

You could also contact your local library to ask whether they need any replacement cases — I see from many discussions online that library patrons are wild and reckless, and CD cases often come back smashed. Many people also recommend posting the cases on a site such as Craigslist or Freecycle. One man’s trash, and all that.

So those are some avenues for you to pursue, Jason. But I have higher aims for you. Because it turns out your fellow music-lovers across the country have devised some very crafty ideas for reusing these relics of our modern music era. [Ed. Note: Fore more on these projects, check out our pretty pictures on Pinterest!] They include:

  • little houses for plants and birds (though the jury’s out on whether birds could or should live in a jewel-toned plastic abode)

Creative! And we haven’t even gotten into things you can do with the CDs themselves. Boomerang! Shower curtain rods! The mind reels.

Dearest readers, let me know if you give any of these projects a try, or if you have other ideas. Rumors are swirling that 2012 will be the year the music industry gives up on the CD, after 30 years (the first CD, produced in 1982, was ABBA’s The Visitors) and more than 200 billion sold. Whether or not that’s the case, we have certainly bebopped our way into a waste-disposal mess. Let’s be on the lookout for fun ways to reduce this impact and quirkify our habitats.


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