The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 24, 2009

Plastic At My Singing Lesson and How to Recycle Used CD’s and DVDs.

Isn’t singing a plastic-free activity?

Not when your teacher records your lessons on CDs. I’ve had two singing lessons so far and have been spending my free time doing funny exercises with my lips and various other parts of my personal sound system. Good thing I never get embarrassed anymore.

You might not think a singing lesson would involve much plastic, and if so, you would be living in the last decade. My teacher records each lesson onto a CD for her students to take home and use for practice. The recording is a great help. The disposable polycarbonate plastic CD, not so much. So I asked if there were some other way to save the lesson… on a Flash Drive perhaps? Turns out, she has another machine that records onto SD cards. I have an SD card in my camera. Perfect! Each week, I can download the recording from the card into my computer and reuse the same card each time. This method could potentially save many, many CDs, depending on how long I keep up the lessons.

Think Before You Burn

This little incident got me thinking about all the other useless disks I have in my house. Like, why did I feel the need to burn the entire 2007 season of American Idol onto DVDs? DVDs that I will never, ever watch again. This morning, I posted an ad on Freecycle for them. I’m not holding my breath for takers. Any of you interested?

Unless someone picks up these DVDs from me, they’re going in my plastic tally. Yes, they are recyclable through various disk recycling programs, which I’ll list below. But all of the programs shred the disks and ship them to China to be downcycled into car parts, which is better than the landfill certainly, but does nothing to curb the need for virgin plastic to make new disks.

Disk Recycling Programs

Here are a few of the disk recycling programs I’ve found:

1) GreenDisk charges $6.95 to process up to 20 lbs of “TechnoTrash” if you use your own box and pay for your own shipping. They also provide collection boxes for larger amounts of techno waste and charge more for these services, which include shipping.

2) CD Recycling Center of America provides a free service (You provide box and pay for shipping). This organization was founded by the owner of Superdups, a disc duplicating service, that is now encouraging all members of the CD/DVD industry to take responsibility for the waste they create.

3) Back Thru the Future also offers free CD/DVD recycling. (You pay shipping and provide box.)

Creative Reuse

And of course, many DIYers have come up with alternative uses for unwanted discs. Green Living Tips offers one such list, as well as places to recycle discs outside the U.S. But once again, none of these solutions does anything to stem the flood of new discs each year, discs which are made from polycarbonate plastic.

So, before you burn that new disc, ask yourself if there is another option. Is what you’re burning now going to be useful to anyone next year or even in a few months? Is there some other way to share the information without getting a new disc involved?

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John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

It is the same old “chain of waste” system, with no responsibility taken for disposal of future waste items. This mindset has to change for sustainability to be achieved.

This is the stand-off over here between Zero Waste enthusiasts and supermarkets. They have reduced plastic packaging (waste) by a good percentage, ~30%. Further change can only be done by altered practices. We just have to keep on message meantime.

14 years ago

It can be surprising what people will want if you list it on Freecycle or Craigslist. Personally I have better luck getting a response on the “free” category of Craigslist than anything else. A while back I listed a box full of plastic CD and DVD cases on Craigslist, thinking, no way would anyone actually want these. They were gone in a day or two.

Lara S.
14 years ago

I have a pendrive which I take with me everywhere :) Also, before I had it, I used my cellphone, my mp3 player or my digital camera (I had to take the USB cable with me, but it wasn’t very annoying).

You could also suggest your teacher to ask students to bring the CD back, so that she can burn the new lessons in the old CD, since I don’t think one singing lesson can fill up an whole CD (you have to select the option, before you burn it, to make the CD available to be burned again in the remaining memory space).

About the “biodegradable” plastic of the other post: I don’t believe it at all. Microscopic bits of plastic will probably remain there forever.

About the fleas, I don’t think spraying vinegar on them will help, I mean I don’t know if fleas will stay or not, but the kitties will hate you, remember that they have a very powerful sense of smell and vinegar smell on their skins could really stress them.

Kay Pere
14 years ago

Beth: Kudos for riding your bike there. I wish more of my students could do this. A few are within walking distance but our area is very spread out, so most drive here.

We have a nice comfortable living room where parents can wait and relax in cold weather or they are welcome to enjoy our yard when it’s warmer. Still, some wait in their cars in my driveway with the engine running for a half an hour and the heater or air conditioning going depending on the season. Makes me cringe. I’m trying to encourage change in this area.

The Minimalist
14 years ago

You rock as usual.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Ruchi — the simplest thing would be to ask them directly instead of all this speculation. I’ll send them an email. I have a feeling they mean things like hazardous heavy metals inside computers. I don’t think they mean ground plastic from CDs.

Kay, your studio sounds great! And my singing lessons are even more eco-friendly because I ride my bike to them instead of driving or taking the bus.

14 years ago

Well, they do say this

“No hazardous materials or obsolete components go overseas to be processed or disposed of”

I guess it depends on what they define as hazardous or obsolete, eh?

14 years ago

Whether a client is sending in a Technotrash Can, getting a truckload of technotrash picked up, or simply sending GreenDisk a box, the technotrash is always delivered to one of our certified facilities located throughout the U.S. Each facility follows the standard procedures developed by GreenDisk that ensure technotrash is handled, tracked, and processed properly.

Hmmm … I guess it just says the facilities that handle the technotrash are in the US. I could swear when I did research on Greendisk a year ago it said they did not ship to China.

14 years ago

If no one on freecycle takes you up on the CDs, East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse always wants CDs. They’re convenient to you on Telegraph in Oakland.

14 years ago


This is a bit off-topic, but I wanted to let you know I found two websites that sell alternatives to plastic bags such as ziplocks or bulk food plastic bags. You may have mentioned them before and I just didn’t see the post, and if so, please forgive this long comment.

The first one is Plum Creek Mercantile. While it does use some plastic for a window in its bulk food bags, they say it’s all nontoxic, phthalate-free. I would guess the same for the Velcro attachments on the snack bags, but not sure.

The other is, and while their reusable bags are plastic, they’re PVC-free, made of EVA plastic and intended for years of use to replace ziplocks. However, they are made in China.

I know these resources aren’t entirely plastic-free, but for those of us struggling with not using ziplocks and using glass or metal not always an option, I thought I’d let you know about these websites. And Plum Creek Mercantile also sells lunch kits that are stainless steel, bamboo utensil sets, and small stainless containers.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

HI Ruchi. I read the white paper too, and I can’t find where it says CDs and DVDs stay in the U.S. Can you point it out to me? What I do see is this:

“Media. In the case of CDs or DVDs, the shredded plastic is collected until we have a consolidated load of 40,000 pounds (approx. 1.2 million CDs or DVDs), the amount it takes to fill a shipping container.

“These ‘loads of plastics’ are shipped either to an EPA granted facility or are traded on the regrind plastics commodity market. The primary applications for the polycarbonate materials are automotive parts, appliance components, and as a compounding base to make other plastics.”

I don’t see anything in that about not shipping to China. Did you see that info in another part of the paper? (The other recycling web site, CD Recycling Center, was very up front about shipping the ground up plastic to China.)

14 years ago

Beth, BRAVA! to you for stepping out and pursuing your interest in singing.

The voice is the the worlds most environmentally friendly musical instrument. :-)

Kay Pere
14 years ago

I’m a voice teacher who has been working to make my studio more environmentally friendly. I use 3 different methods to record lessons for my students to practice with at home. [you may also have seen my comments here as “Quiet Little Life”]

1) Record directly to the student’s iPod (Classic, or Second Generation Nano or later, not Touch) using the Belkin Tunestudio. You can find info about this unit here but other sites have better prices.

2) Record to a cassette tape brought by the student

3) Record to my iPod using the Belkin unit then transfer that to the student’s flash drive. This takes up valuable lesson time.

I’m also encouraging students to bring flash drives with them all the time instead of blank CDs so I can provide example recordings for study or accompaniments for practice.

This has made for a lot less waste in the studio.

Other eco actions in my studio:
– installed power strips for all the equipment so I can easily turn it off with one switch
– put in energy saving light bulbs
– recycle everything possible (paper, ink cartridges, etc)

As for the old LPs, I got an ION portable UBS turntable and have been slowly transferring recordings to iTunes. Very easy to do, though time consuming. Even traveled with it to my childhood home to save some of the 45s we listened to as kids. Info here: better prices elsewhere.

14 years ago

I had a substantial collection of LP’s (the old vinyl disks for you youngsters) and decided to get rid of them.

Before I did, I transferred my faves to CD.

Flash forward to about two years ago. I realized I NEVER LISTEN to any of the CD’s

So I have been giving away my CD collection and have not bought a commercial CD in probably a decade. I can always check out music from the library but I have never, ever missed any of the music I got rid of.

The iPod is the greatest thing for the environment because all the music is on the drive, a huge savings of plastic and, years from now, iPod owners can simply delete all of the music with no waste generated.

My partner’s daughter had a huge collection of VHS movies – all of them dumped in the trash.

Moral of the story – stop to consider how often you will use something before you buy it and also carry a mental picture of all the basements of America stuffed with things the homeowners will never use again. If that won’t do the trick think of all the self-storage places with similar contents.

Suggested motto – “unload your life”

14 years ago

I am fairly sure that Greendisk does not ship its technotrash to China. I guess it’s worth a call to the organization to make sure, but their white paper says that all their trash goes to facilities in the US.

14 years ago

i use re-writable discs for everything, in case i want to use it again. my dvd player happens to read ANYTHING (and it was only about $35 at best buy) so i use the highest-capacity re-writable discs I can find. i also fill up old flash drives with things i might want but not enough to burn them. i even toss things on those tiny memory cards that come with cameras and such. i download a lot of movies and tv shows, and while i don’t want to delete them, i don’t have enough room on my hard drive for them.