Category_Collecting, Category_Groovy Stuff, Category_Horror, Category_VHS, Category_Weirdness, cult film, entertainment, Everything is Terrible, Get Reel, Goodwill, history, Horror, pollution, rare movies, recycling, Speed, sustainability, trash, VHS -

Recycle, Rewind and Keep Watching: An Open Discussion on the Problem of Analog Excess and How to Handle the Recycling and Waste for Abandoned VHS Tapes

Just about a day or so ago, an interesting article posted on the Official Goodwill Industries International, Inc. blog was brought to our attention by fellow Videovore and The Trash Pile main brain Chris Nichols. The piece expressed Goodwill’s concerns about the disposal procedure for the glut of VHS tapes they receive regularly, announcing an idea-based contest with an aim to find someone or some group with the smarts to invent a solution to the analog excess aftermath which has flooded Goodwill’s shelves over the past several years.


When tapes sit on the shelf, Goodwill has no choice but to throw them away. Or do they? That is the question, Tapeheads.

The problem is Goodwill essentially serves as a terminal juncture for these slabs of magnetic magic. Sure, those VHSexy horror titles, the obscure slabs of cult craziness and even rare children’s fare have a chance to make it back onto someone’s shelf and be treated with love and care. Even copies of Jerry Maguire and Speed have somehow found a second-life through the fanatical obsession of particular Videovores. But what about the abandoned rewindables that sit idly on the shelf for weeks or months or even years, slowly turning into annoying clutter, ultimately mutating into the equivalent of obsolete trash in the eyes of their keeper? It’s as simple as it is sad: they’re thrown out.


NOoOOoooOOO! The Video Humanity! Look at that radical red tape back there! And the blue one! And the black tape with the green dust flap! Okay, that’s probably E.T, but still, man. Still.

That’s when the real problem begins, and why Goodwill created this now outdated but apparently un-updated post: they need to solve their VHS tape trash troubles. You see, the actual video tape inside VHS cassettes are coated with chemicals (toxic ferric oxide, iron oxide and chromium dioxide) and are indeed quite hazardous to human health in large deposits. And when these tapes enter the landfills, they slowly break down over time, causing those chemicals to break away from the tape and eventually seep into the groundwater supply, poisoning the earth and our potential drinking water. Yeah. Not good. So, unable to enter the challenge on the post, I thought to share my thoughts here in Lunchmeat Land and encourage other Tapeheads to do the same in the comments below in order to raise awareness and create a communal voice. My personal idea? It’s pretty simple. STOP THROWING THEM AWAY. Dismantle them, recycle the useful parts (the plastics and stainless steel) and properly dispose of the toxic components that would inflict harm on our living environment. By doing this, not only would Goodwill create a considerable amount of jobs (a feat that Goodwill is no stranger to, as creating job opportunities and supplying workforce training is a vital part of their mission statement) but it would also contribute to the preservation of the planet through sustainability and reduced waste.


A friendly graphic reminder that VHS still matters, and there's more than one way to save our favorite format.

I did in fact write a personal email to Goodwill offering my ideas about VHS disposal, and within it, I recommended they take a look at a project out of Canada called Get Reel, which was covered here on the LM blog a while back, with info on their then fledgling operation and the VHS community’s concerns about examination and preservation of content. Since then, Get Reel has solidified their methods, and could very well serve as an exemplary operation when trying to find a tape trash solution. Be sure to check out their site for their full project information, but simply put, they’ve created a team (AKA have created jobs) that disassemble VHS tapes by hand, separate the parts and recycle the useful and properly dispose of the waste. It’s really that simple. It just takes an initiative, about 10 minutes of training and a willing team. Check out the disassembly demonstration video below. And in case you were wondering, it’s impossible to create a machine to disassemble VHS tapes and separate them into waste and recycle due to the fact that there are just too many variations on how VHS tapes are constructed. That’s right! Something a computerized machine can’t do! Leave it to VHS to defeat modern technology in some sort of ironic end game. That all being said, I hope people see that this problem is solvable. It’s evidenced by Get Reel, and just needs to be further implemented and more widespread. What problem is much further along and perhaps irreconcilable is society’s gravitation away from the culture of physical media, which is undoubtedly the true source behind why these tapes are falling into landfills in the first place. The 55 million copies of Lion King (purportedly the best-selling VHS tape of all-time) are still a completely viable way to watch that landmark animation film. It’s the force fed notion that these tapes are now obsolete junk is what has brought us to the point of dealing this immense amount of waste.


An all too common sight on the shelves of Goodwill and stores akin. On the VHS MISFITS board on Facebook, one Tapehead named Joel Alan Decker commented, “They should melt down all the copies of Titanic and make them into another plastic Titanic.” Now THAT would be something VHSpecial, eh, my fellow Videonauts?!

But we are out there. Tapeheads, Videovores and all analog-inclined individuals alike are out there scouring the wild, picking out the gems and preserving them in our personal collections, essentially saving these tapes from the crushing jaws of the trash compactor. So, in some small yet collectively significant way, every time you pull a really weird workout tape, some dubious dub or just your fifth copy of Wayne’s World off of a second-hand source’s shelf, you’re helping to save the planet from a slow, seeping toxic death. And that’s pretty groovy, man. VHShare your thoughts below, Tapeheads. I know VHS tapes are disappearing from Goodwill shelves all over the country. Let us know if you still see tapes and what kind of stuff you’re finding. In the meantime, let people know that VHS tapes aren’t trash. They’re total history, and they’re a major component in preserving our own human past both in entertainment and as a society. Let’s just hope as we move into the future, people will still care about the unique magic of magnetic tape housed in a plastic case.

Groove and Groove and You Got Any Tapes in the Back, Man?

Josh Schafer

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