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Compact Discs: An Untapped Resource

Compact Disc Waste Stream

“Without natural resources, life itself is impossible. From birth to death--natural resources transformed for human use--feed, clothe, shelter, and transport us. Upon them we depend for every material necessity, comfort, convenience, and protection in our lives. Without abundant resources, prosperity is out of reach.” - Gifford Pinchot.

All human-made goods ultimately derive from natural resources; renewable and non-renewable. Simple math predicts irrational consumption of these resources places future generations in peril.

Unless, we get smarter about reusing materials already available. Available where?

Answer: Waste streams.

For example, any idea what happened to your old CD and DVD collection? How about that stack of recordable CD-Rs you never used? Remember all those AOL sign-up discs?

The amount of plastic compact discs produced over the years is staggering. Over one trillion since 1982. Enough to circle the Earth 30 times!

Today, we stream music and movies. Transfer files over email. Download software directly to our devices. Yet, the majority of discs still exist (or, at least those not incinerated), with over three million becoming obsolete each month.

Believe it or not, new discs are still being made! The music industry alone produced two billion CDs last year. As for natural resources, that means approximately 300 cubic feet of natural gas, two cups of crude oil, and 24 gallons of water for every 30 CDs.

Your old discs may be safely stored in a random drawer, or box in the garage. Sadly, most will end up in landfills.

With a decomposition rate of one million years per CD, it’s time to seriously consider how to REUSE these shiny plastic discs.

Sony Discman

 CDs and DVDs are mostly made of polycarbonate; a durable, highly recyclable material. A quick Google search results in hundreds of suggestions about how to reuse them. Everything from art projects to DIY home goods such as lamps and picture frames. 

Thankfully, discs are also useful to make a range of goods such as furniture and auto parts.

What if companies embraced this widely untapped source material to create new products? 

It’s a design choice, and requires manufacturers like us to prioritize this approach. Why extract raw materials from sensitive ecosystems when viable materials are already in abundance? 

With specialized methods, discs can be cleaned, ground and compounded into fresh high-grade material. Ideal for reuse in new products.

Sure, our planet’s health depends on it. But, entire industries also rely on circular use of materials, where 1.3 million are employed at recycling facilities just in the U.S.

Think of it like this. Your old compact discs are more than forgotten relics of a simpler time. They're tiny, flat building blocks for a more sustainable future.

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