My Closet Full of Dead Media: How To Recycle All These Damn Old CD’s and DVD’s
Of the many adjectives that you could use to describe me, one that I’m proudest of is “music collector.” Since my early days of scamming the Columbia House Record Club, up through the ‘Mall Years’ of scraping together allowance change to pick up the latest 45, to the ‘College Years’ where my medium of choice drifted quickly from vinyl to the CD and cassette purchases at Vinyl Solution in Grand Rapids and Wherehouse Records in East Lansing, to my 21st century habit of hoarding mp3s, right through to today when I’m merging the new and the old, combining streaming for convenience and vinyl for the damn cool nostalgia and comfort, not a week has gone by when I haven’t purchased SOME kind of music.
And it adds up. My God, does all this music add up. Deep down, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My office closet is almost completely filled with thousands of compact discs accumulated during my “CD Phase” of 1987-2004, the vinyl records of my childhood (yep, I kept them. Thankfully.) and the “Vinyl Renaissance Phase” of 2010 to present that I’m currently enjoying. There’s even a box of cassettes, pre-recorded and a few beloved homemade mix tapes, that I just can’t part with. And lastly, one 500 GB hard drive filled with about 100,000 mp3 files, most of which I’ll never hear again, if I heard them at all in the first place. My office closet has barely any room for office stuff. It’s mostly the detritus of my musical history. Digging through the old records and flipping through the CD drawers is like going back in time to the me I was when I was 6, 12, 21, 40, and every year in between. But there’s a problem.
What’s the problem with my closet full of musical curios? Well, it’s this: I NEVER look at it anymore. The CDs don’t get played. SOME of the records get played, but the old ones mostly stay put. There’s no cassette player left in the house, so the tapes are left to stagnate and slowly deteriorate.
This is not to say that I don’t listen to music anymore. Far from it; I listen to more music today than ever. Working at home, by myself, allows me the luxury of listening to music all day long. And with the advent of Spotify as well as my internet radio stalwarts Sirius/XM, WFMU, Slacker, Songza, and new favorite Portland radio station XRAY.FM, the music is non-stop. I love it. Let’s face it: The Age of Streaming is upon us. Well, for me it is at least. It may take a year or two for it to catch on with the public at large, but it’ll happen. It is happening. It’s too convenient. It’s ridiculously affordable (5 bucks a month for the ability to listen to pretty much any recorded music ever recorded? Ridiculous!) Now, there’s a lot of debate over whether or not musicians and songwriters are being fairly reimbursed for streaming, and I’ll try to tackle that in another posting. In short, they get paid very little per stream. But as the services catch on, and millions and millions of people start using the services, the ability to earn more will increase with each new streaming customer. But I digress…
All this super convenient instant access to more music than I could ever possibly listen to means that for me, and for millions like me, the days of pulling out a cd, record, or cassette to hear music are long gone.
So what the hell am I supposed to do with these thousands of old CDs, records, and cassettes that really don’t serve a purpose anymore? Do I sell them? Give them away? Just throw them away? What? Somebody tell me, what’s the point of keeping all this shit???
Here’s what I’m doing with them. First and foremost, I can’t just throw them out with the trash. I have in the past, getting rid of garbage bags full of old cassettes, VHS tapes, and CDs. But sending all that non-renewable, non-degrading polluting plastic and metal to a landfill just didn’t sit right with me. So that option’s off the table.
Can I sell them? Tried that too. But guess what: If you don’t think the age of the CD is over, go out and try to sell some of them. At my wife’s garage sales, I’m lucky to sell a quarter of the discs I’m trying to get rid of, and that’s with a 25 cents per disc price. You could try to sell them on ebay or Amazon online, but you’ll be lucky to get more than a buck or two for any but a very few rare, limited edition discs. The postage to mail them will cost more than you’ll earn. Hell, even the used record store usually won’t buy back old CDs. Again, if they do, you’re looking at very little money. There’s just very little market for used CDs anymore. Music has been cheapened by streaming and illegal downloads to the point where most people won’t ever pay for it again. (Yes, this deeply affects the livelihood of artists, which I’ll deal with at a later point. We’re concerned with the consumer side of things here.)
You could just give the stuff away, but again, who the hell wants it? Pretty much nobody.
Lots of websites out there will present you with lots of ideas of how to “reuse” old CDs by incorporating them into DIY arts & crafts-type projects like this gotta-be-uncomfortable CD chair. That’s great, if DIY arts & crafts projects are your thing. They are not my thing. Besides, even if they were, I’ve got so many old discs that I’d be doing Old CD Art Projects for the rest of my life, and that’s not how I want to spend my remaining years.
That said, you can check around with local schools, retirement centers, day care centers, places like that, to see if they might be interested in taking some CDs off your hands for use in their own art projects. If so, consider that a win-win.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just send these old CDs (and DVDs, and cassettes, and whatever else) off to be recycled, like we do with our empty beer bottles and newspapers? God, that would be so cool.
As it turns out, there are a few companies out there that will take old discarded CDs and other stuff, and safely and responsibly break them down and turn them into new products. It’s not a completely perfect solution, but if it keeps the majority of these old discs out of landfills, I’m all for it. I wrote a piece about it for my eco-site Green Home Source, and you can check out the details HERE. Basically, you pay to ship your unused discs to companies like GreenDisk and The CD Recycling Center, and they take care of it. It would be nice if it were a free service, but nothing worthwhile in life is really free now, is it? But if these companies can take something that would otherwise sit in a landfill for thousands of years and turn it into something new rather than using new, virgin materials, it’s worth it. I’ve got a pile of old CD-Rs waiting to ship off once it gets big enough.
All of these are valid options for getting rid of old CDs and tapes. Through selling, donating, recycling and throwing them out, I’ve got rid of hundreds of old cassettes and CDs over the years. But most of them are still right here in the closet. And, for now at least, that’s where most of them will stay. Why? Because to me, they still have value. Even if they’re worthless financially to the world of commerce, they have value to me. They’re a physical reminder of some of my favorite music at various points in my life, on the physical media that I consumed them on at the time. I’m not a hoarder; I’ll continue to whittle down by collection into something more manageable as I find sustainable ways to do so. But I will always have a Music Collection. Maybe it’s my age, my generation, that makes being able to physically hold a vinyl record or album cover, or even a CD booklet, that makes the music tangible. Even if I rarely actually take the time to listen to them, it’s comforting to me that they are there, waiting. Then again, maybe it’s not an age or generational thing….Young people are flocking to vinyl albums and turntables these days, and vinyl records are the only portion of the music business that isn’t experiencing sales decreases. The day that record stores cease to exist is a day I hope to never see, and if young hipsters getting into vinyl puts that day off for a while, I’m not going to argue with it.
There’s something to a physical piece of music. There’s something to be said for the act of getting a record, or a cd, or cassette, out and walking it to the stereo system and starting it up. It forces interaction with it. It forces you to listen, to be active with it. While I spend most of my working day streaming music, I try to take time out every day, usually in the evening, to take out an album, put it on the turntable, and I listen to it. Halfway through, I get up and turn the album over, and listen to Side B. Does it sound better? I think so, but that’s probably because I’m listening on a halfway-decent stereo system, the way music’s supposed to be heard, and not through the tinny speakers of my laptop. Is it convenient to listen to music this way? Hell no, but that’s exactly the point. Music, in addition to being cheapened through the proliferation of mp3s, has become background noise. Something that’s on while we’re doing other things. And that’s fine, it’s what I do all day long. But music needs to be more. Music is, and always will be, deserving of our undivided attention. And that’s what my closet full of CDs and records signifies to me. My lifetime of active music listening. I’ll find somewhere else to store my office stuff.