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Can You Recycle CDs – The Retro Guide

You’re probably wondering as many have been, what’s the recyclability of shiny CDs we’ve all come not to use as much as we did until late 2010s.

As an expert with years of experience in the field of recycling, I find the subject fascinating due to its complexity and relevance in today’s world of environmental consciousness when it comes to how we consume different mediums of media.

First, we had vinyl, floppy disks, tape and now CDs are on the chopping block for irrelevancy. These days you cant even buy a laptop with a CD drive in it.

tl;dr: Are CDs recyclable? The answer is a resounding yes, but with a caveat – not all recycling programs accept CDs due to their unique material composition. The most critical point here is that recycling CDs is not as straightforward as it seems. It requires specialized facilities capable of handling the specific plastic type (polycarbonate) and metal (aluminium) that CDs consist of.

Understanding CDs and Their Material Composition

Before we venture further into the recycling aspect, it’s essential to understand what CDs are made of. They primarily consist of a plastic called polycarbonate and a thin layer of aluminium or gold. If you’ve ever wondered why CDs have a characteristic shiny surface, it’s because of this metallic layer.

The Recycling Process

A common misconception is that any plastic item can be tossed into your recycling bin. However, that’s far from the truth. I recommend being mindful of the different types of plastics and their respective recycling procedures.

Notably, CDs, due to their polycarbonate makeup, fall under plastic category 7, a catch-all group that includes various mixed and layered plastics.

Polycarbonate Recycling: This process is complex, requiring high heat to break down the material. As many experts have noted, only specialized recycling facilities can handle this type of plastic.

Metallic Layer Recycling: This thin layer of aluminium or gold also requires specific treatment. Separating it from the plastic substrate involves a specialized process.

How to Recycle CDs: A Step-by-Step Guide

Wondering how to navigate this complex process? I’ve detailed the steps below for clarity:

  1. Collect CDs: Gather all CDs you wish to recycle.
  2. Find a Suitable Program: Not all recycling centers accept CDs, so it’s important to research ones in your area or online that do.
  3. Ship or Drop off CDs: Once you’ve found a program, follow their instructions on shipping or dropping off your CDs.

Don’t Forget the Cases

While discussing the recycling of CDs, it might be worthwhile to consider the cases as well. Many CD cases are made from a type of plastic known as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which falls under plastic category 3. Again, these require specific recycling facilities, and some centers may not accept them.

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of CDs is multifaceted, spanning across their production, usage, and disposal stages. Unfortunately, despite their decline in popularity due to the digital revolution, CDs have left a considerable environmental footprint that we continue to grapple with today.

1. Production: Manufacturing CDs involves extracting raw materials, primarily polycarbonate plastic and aluminum, both of which have significant environmental costs. Mining aluminum, for instance, results in habitat destruction and soil erosion. Moreover, the refining process releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated that producing one CD emits 1.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

2. Usage: Although CDs do not directly contribute to environmental degradation during their usage phase, their indirect impacts should not be overlooked. The players that read CDs require electricity to operate, contributing to carbon emissions, especially if the electricity comes from fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

3. Disposal: When discarded improperly, CDs can take up to a million years to decompose, according to a Stanford University study. As they break down, they can leach Bisphenol A (BPA), a harmful compound, into the environment.

As per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 5.5 million boxes of software go to landfills and incinerators, plus people throw away millions of music CDs each year. These alarming statistics highlight the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for effective CD recycling strategies.

Moreover, recycling CDs is not a straightforward process. As discussed earlier, their unique material composition necessitates specialized recycling facilities, which are not universally available. This leads to a significant proportion of CDs ending up in landfills.

Green Alternatives

For those interested in reducing waste, a useful suggestion would be to consider digital music and data storage alternatives. These methods eliminate the need for physical materials and the resulting waste.

As for existing CDs, consider reuse before recycling. They can serve various creative or practical purposes, such as DIY projects or even simple coasters. These repurposed uses extend the life of the CD, delaying its journey to the waste stream.

Upcycling Ideas For Your Home

Giving your old CDs new life is a great way to cut down on landfill in a number of creative ways. Here are some suggestions:

1. Reflective Mosaic Art: Break CDs into small pieces and use them to create stunning mosaics. These can be applied on photo frames, vases, or even on larger surfaces like tables or wall art.

2. CD Coasters: This is a simple and practical use. You can add felt or cork to the bottom of a CD to create a unique and conversation-starting coaster.

3. Garden Deterrent: CDs can be hung in a garden or orchard to deter birds and other pests. The reflective surface can scare them away, protecting your plants.

4. Wind Chime: String together multiple CDs with a sturdy cord to create a wind chime. When the sun hits them, they’ll cast beautiful, reflective light patterns.

5. Clock Face: Transform a CD into the face of a clock. You can purchase a simple clock mechanism online, then decorate the CD to suit your taste before assembling.

6. Plant Pot Marker: Write or paint the names of plants on old CDs and stick them in your pots or garden as markers.

7. Christmas Ornaments: With a little bit of creative embellishment, CDs can make gorgeous Christmas tree decorations. Glue on some glitter, paint, or even small family photos.

8. CD Lampshade: Create a layered lampshade using old CDs. The light reflecting off the CDs will give your room a unique glow.

9. Earring Holder: If you’re into DIY home solutions, a CD can be converted into an earring holder. With a stand and some mesh or lace stretched across the CD hole, it becomes a stylish accessory organizer.

10. DVD or CD Holder: Ironically enough, you can use an old CD to make a holder for your other CDs, DVDs, or Blu-Rays. This requires a bit more craftiness but can result in a unique storage solution.


Are CDs recyclable? Yes, they certainly are. However, the process isn’t as simple as tossing them into your recycling bin. It requires careful understanding, research, and a certain level of commitment to ensuring these items end up in the right facilities.

Remember, the goal of recycling isn’t just to rid ourselves of unwanted items, but to reintegrate materials back into the production cycle, reducing the need for new resources. As we navigate the nuanced world of CD recycling, let’s keep this in mind.


Can I throw my CDs in the regularrecycling bin?

Generally, no. Most curbside recycling programs do not accept CDs. Check with your local recycling program for specifics.

Are CD cases recyclable?

Yes, but like CDs, not all recycling programs accept CD cases due to their specific plastic composition (usually PVC).

What else can I do with my old CDs?

Reuse is always a great option! Use them for DIY projects, decoration, or even as coasters.

Can I recycle DVDs and Blu-rays as well?

Yes, DVDs and Blu-rays are made from the same materials as CDs and thus follow the same recycling procedures.

Can CDs be donated?

Yes, numerous organizations accept CD donations, but it’s always best to check with the specific organization first.


  • Jen Wheeler

    Jen Wheeler, co-founder of Recycling-Revolution.com, holds degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford. A renowned environmentalist, she's championed sustainable practices at global events and leads EcoBright Solutions, focusing on recycling education and eco-friendly products.

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