CD Waste

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cd waste

The old floppy disc with the mysterious film inside has been successfully outmoded with the advent of compact discs. It did not take a host of alternatives to phase that one out. Yet with universal serial bus (USB) devices, memory cards, digital video discs (DVD), and compact discs rewritable (CD-RW), the compact disc recordable (CD-R) itself is still very much alive. Why? With a lot of more environmentally friendly alternatives, why does the CD-R still remain as one of the choices?

Compact discs recordable are designed for write once read many (WORM) function. Once they have served their function, are outdated, contain obsolete information, or are irreparably damaged, they are headed sooner or later to garbage bins and landfills. The natural resources that make up their components are left to break down in the trash, even though by themselves the materials are still good.

Most compact discs and digital video discs (DVD) are made up of aluminum. Aluminum is one of the most ample metal elements in the crust of the earth. Its ore (bauxite ore) is extracted and mined directly from the Earth. Other materials like  polycarbonate plastic made from crude oil, lacquer plastic made from acrylic, gold, dyes, silver, glass, and nickel also make up the compact disc. Considering that close to one billion compact discs have been manufactured and sold by 1990, that’s a certain food for thought. The music industry sees millions of music compact discs in the trash every year, used and discarded by the public according to what’s hot and popular in the music scene. According to about 100,000 pounds of compact discs are rendered obsolete every month. What happens to these CDs?

They could be reused for crafts, sold to second-hand stores, traded, or donated to libraries. They could also be sent or taken to recycling/e-cycling centers to be ground up and blended into plastics. This material will then be used in plastic products for the office, the automotive industry, home products, etc. More likely, they will be thrown with the trash and are headed to landfills, where they might leach chemicals as they are exposed to heat, light, and moisture.

In 2011, two artists made an impression using tens of thousands of discarded compact discs. A French artist, Elise Morin and an architect, Clemence Eliard, sorted through and sewed about 65,000 pieces of compact discs together and created the Waste Landscape. It resembles an undulating series of metallic hills and are made out entirely of discarded compact discs. The artwork attracted attention to the problem of compact disc waste and disposal.

More than a few of us have a stack of useless cds in our closets and forgotten drawers. Because there is a lack of centralized recycling efforts, the best option for used/broken compact discs would be to send them to CD recycling centers with specialized equipments. In the US, try CD Recycling Center. In UK, contact and in Australia, try EcoDisc – DiscStation. also lists e-waste recyclers links and location. Some recycling centers charge a small fee for postage.

One of the better options would be at least to improve and upgrade compact discs rewritable (CD-RW) so they can replace wasteful WORM (write once read many) CDs. CDs are generally compatible with most media players, but this is not always true for CD-RWs. Also, choose digital downloads over purchase of CDs. These are easier to obtain than hard copies (in forms of CDs) and do not leave waste behind after it becomes obsolete.

Until the mighty CD meets its match and replacement, it remains as one of the challenging waste products of our modern lives.


Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by London Permaculture on Flickr.

Estel M.
About Estel M. (339 Posts)

Estel Grace Masangkay is a creative writer who enjoys outdoor trips and nature activities. She is passionate about sustainability and environment conservation. Follow Me @Em23me.

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