Ask Unclutterer: Getting rid of old CDs

Reader Deb submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I have stacks and stacks of unusable discs that I need to get rid of before I move. Throwing them in garbage seems wrong. Are there any options for proper and safe disposal of these?

This is an interesting question because “proper and safe” can mean two very different things. You could be talking about environmentally friendly solutions or you could mean destroying the information on the discs. Both are excellent questions, so I wanted to address both of them.

Environmentally friendly destruction:

Rewritable CDs are the easiest types of CDs to recycle since they can be reused if in working condition. Business teachers in high schools across the country would very likely be interested in those CDs. Listing them on Freecycle is also a great idea. Just be sure to write over any sensitive data with nonsense before you make your donation.

If the CD is damaged or not rewritable, then they can be donated to a CD recycling company. The discs will be cleaned, ground up, blended with other materials and reused in other plastic products. Search the internet for a CD recycling company that works best for you.

Destruction of information:

One argument against recycling CDs, especially discs with sensitive data on them, is that it takes energy to get the CDs to a recycling company. If you end up shipping your CDs across the country for recycling, you may end up doing more environmental damage with fuel and exhaust.

If you’re not near a CD recycling center and your discs are full of sensitive data, it is probably best to just shred the discs using heavy duty shears or in your paper shredder (if it’s approved for such uses). Then, toss the shreds into the trash. Yes, you’ll be putting the plastic into a landfill, but it might ultimately have less impact on the environment.

Thank you, Deb, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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31 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Getting rid of old CDs”

  1. posted by JVM on

    Best Buy will take most electronics (including CD’s) and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. There’s usually a box just inside the doors.


  2. posted by Topics about Recycle » Ask Unclutterer: Getting rid of old CDs on

    […] bysarah placed an observative post today on Ask Unclutterer: Getting rid of old CDsHere’s a quick excerptReader Deb submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer: I have stacks and stacks of unusable discs that I need to get rid of before I move. Throwing them in garbage seems wrong. Are there any options for proper and safe disposal of these? This is an interesting question because “proper and safe”… […]

  3. posted by James E. Robinson, III on

    A microwave oven is all that is required to sanitize any data on a CD. Two seconds for a single disc will do the trick.

  4. posted by Carrie on

    I recommend They’re the best I’ve found and they only ask for a small donation.

  5. posted by knitwych on

    Another option for getting rid of CDs might be to contact your local schools’ art teachers to see if they would like to have the discs for kiddie art programs. I’ve seen local elementary school students make coasters and flashy mobiles from CDs.

    Gardeners also string CDs up in and around their gardens to scare away birds. A local winery has them strung up in the vineyard.

  6. posted by Lindsay on

    I have the exact opposite problem right now– does anyone know where to get free used CDs? My non-profit is planning on a Rock n’ Roll themed fundraiser and we are in need of 1,000s of used CDs. Does anyone have any ideas on where to find such a source (other than posting a Craigslist want ad)? I foresee shipment being an issue–we’re in Pittsburgh. Thanks!

  7. posted by Angela Esnouf on

    I agree with knitwych. Art projects, for both children and adults, are a great way to use them. Or as garden mobiles to scare birds from fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

    Or send them to Lindsay. Hey Lindsay, use social media to get your message out. Twitter and Facebook are wonderful for viral marketing. And people love to help a good cause. You could try local radio and newspapers as well.

  8. posted by Heather on

    I use greendisk… It is inexpensive, easy and they also accept jewel cases and lots of other ewaste and media. I use the pack-it service, $6 for 20 lbs.

  9. posted by Rue on

    If you’re talking about actual music CDs, consider donating them to Discs for Dogs. This charity sells the discs for $1 in NYC and donate the proceeds to the SPCA. They also reimburse for shipping. 🙂

  10. posted by Tim Carlson on

    I was thinking about asking a similar question, except about music CDs. I have all my music on iTunes, and I want to get rid of my old CDs. Normally I would donate or sell my old stuff, but that seems wrong because I am keeping a copy, and I believe that even giving the music away qualifies as pirating (right?). And I certainly shouldn’t sell them to make a profit.

    So do I destroy them and recycle them? Is there any way for them not to go to waste?

  11. posted by RAAM on

    Keep something in mind. When you take something to those boxes inside stores for recycling? Many times the store just dump them into their dumpster. I know this to be a fact from personal observation that spans a number of states.

  12. posted by Sheryl on

    We zap our data CD’s in the microwave too. I had big fun zapping an OEM copy of Windows XP that I could no longer use!

  13. posted by Tim at Home Document Manager on

    +1 For microwave. Often the cracks it causes are interesting fractal-like patterns to show the kids.

  14. posted by Mackenzie on

    No! The shredded plastic does not get thrown away. CDs are type 7 plastic resin. They’re recyclable in most municipalities.

  15. posted by Nat on

    If you are concerned about the data most robust shredders will shred CDs – the one in our office certainly does

  16. posted by CrimsonCrow on

    Ship ’em to me! I have been looking for a way to get several hundred cds. I have a DIY project in mind. Contact me on my web site if you want to ship them! We could split the cost of shipping…

  17. posted by Amy on

    I use old cd’s for craft purposes. If you know of any sewers/quilters, they might be very happy to receive them.

  18. posted by Sheryl on

    Tim Carlson – you might want to think twice about getting rid of your music CD’s, even though you have them on iTunes. If your hard drive should go south, you’ll lose all that music and have no way, short of buying the CD’s all over again, to replace it. (The voice of experience here.)

  19. posted by Josephine on

    I am very fortunate to live in a community where we have periodic electronic recycling days. Items I’ve recycled include: computers, monitors, batteries, diskettes, VHS tapes, CDs, TVs, cables…you name it! I suggest checking out local government websites for information.

    I, too, have availed myself of Freecycle.

  20. posted by Justin on

    Working the video production and duplication industry, I often have sensitive discs that need to be disposed of. The easiest is to take a sharpie and make a line from the center of the disc to the outer edge. A single swipe from the sharpie and they will never play again!

  21. posted by Tim Carlson on

    @Sheryl – That was a real concern of mine until my hard drive actually crashed about a year ago. Luckily I didn’t lose anything, but it was enough to get me on a regular backup routine. Ironically, the crash actually made me protect my data better!

    I backup to a separate hard drive using Time Machine. I also burned my entire hard drive to DVDs, which I keep at work, and I backup selected files online with Carbonite.

    Hopefully I will never lose anything now.

  22. posted by Z on

    I use old CDs for craft projects. I hate to dump stuff that’s still in good condition and can be used for other purposes, and I’m glad I found crafting.

  23. posted by Jessica on

    You can always donate music cds to your local library.

  24. posted by Jenny on

    I send my electronic waste (CD jewel cases, CDs, floppy disks, etc.) to, an electronics recycling service. It costs a little bit, but it’s not very expensive and it’s worth it to me to know the stuff is being recycled.

  25. posted by allen on

    @Tim Carlson: Thank you for being maybe the FIRST person i’ve seen online/on tv-shows that actually CARE about this part of the issue: The legal one.

    My advice is similar to Sheryl, KEEP THEM. Honestly, it’s not worth the pain/hassle. DO you have a CD player in your car? You could keep some of your favorites in a visor-thingy. they have ones that hold like 20. I know that’s probably only a small portion. 😉

    If you have a garage, you could stick them into some rubbermaid containers (plastic, and a bit of a seel (sp?)), and stash them in the above-bit. same with an attic. If you only have an appartment… well, to a certain extent, you’re screwed. 😀 Maybe a good friend/relative will let you keep them stashed away in their attic, or garage space.

    I’m all for cutting back/freeing up space, &c, but keep in mind that unless you ripped your CDs to lossless (like FLAC), what you have is much crappier then what you paid for. shredding the CDs when you’re trusting to crappier sound, on material that is designed to fail just doesn’t seem like good planning?

    If you DO want to get rid of some, and want to follow the legal aspect, check which CDs you never listen to really, and delete those, & then sell them to a used CD place. 😀

    Good Luck!

  26. posted by Margaret on

    If the cds come with jewel boxes please think of your local public library – libraries can generally use unbroken jewel boxes as replacements for circulating cd collections.

    And of course if the cds are of music your local library might be interested!

  27. posted by Chris Gee on

    @Tim Carlson, Hi Tim, I believe that selling or donating the originals is not a violation of US copyright law. However, ripping the CDs is a violation of copyright in most jurisdictions. Some countries allow the creation of backup or a copy for personal use of the original. In any case, your actions would not be piracy, which is a large-scale duplication and distribution for profit. Piracy is a criminal offence in many jurisdictions, but generally copyright is not protected by the criminal code. The copyright holders (or the RIAA) would have to sue you. I am in no way counselling you to breach domestic and/or international law, the risks of ripping one’s personal CD collection are very very low. Enjoy the music.

  28. posted by Thomas Stevens on

    I use a crosscut shredder that can handle them, but there are plenty good tips above.

  29. posted by dan on

    @Justin: That doesn’t seem like the best idea. Couldn’t someone just polish off the surface layer that had the sharpie on it and then read it?

  30. posted by Becca on

    Lindsay, do you have a contact address or website? I work in the music industry and have about 200-300 used music CD’s to get rid of.

    And, as well, that’s an idea for you. Pittsburgh probably doesn’t have a ton of record labels but if you call around, they may be able to donate.

  31. posted by bree on

    @lindsay, i know its a few months later, but i ahev a lot of cds to recycle. i used to run a record label. so i got lots. contact me at pumpkinradio at hotmail.

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