A tale of the tape that goes down to the wire: More on dispatching old cassettes

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A tale of the tape that goes down to the wire: More on dispatching old cassettes


If you don’t want to keep your mix tapes from decades ago or put them in the trash, you can freecycle, repurpose or recycle them. (John Kelly /The Washington Post)

Should I be pressing rewind on my plans to toss my old cassette mix tapes? Some readers think so after reading my Monday column on the dilemma.

“Yes, you must keep all those tapes,” wrote Dan Provine of Severna Park, Md. “Just looking at the song list on them brings so many memories flooding back. My brother and I have mix tapes we made for when we traveled a lot. Some are marked with stuff like ‘Florida 1982, tape 7,’ with songs specifically for the long I-95 ride south. Hundreds are recordings from WHFS, and it’s a time warp when you hear the old DJs, and the concert calendar, and songs you have forgotten. . . . Tapes are small enough to store; don’t let anybody ever take your tapes away.”

Some readers said I can pitch the cassettes — but only after converting the contents to a digital format. (You can find such gizmos online, starting at about $23.)

Others pointed out that the quality of 30-year-old tapes is probably pretty lousy. Why would I want to save that, digitally or otherwise?

Paula Fischetti of Silver Spring, Md., thought there has to be a better option than dispatching a box full of plastic to the landfill. She suggested “freecycling,” which is offering the tapes to anyone who would take them.

Freecycle.org is a nifty website that can help shift just about anything. People have been known to offload half-empty bags of potting soil. (Or half-full, depending on your disposition.)

EBay suggests that old cassettes can be turned into purses and wallets, the tape used in the garden to tie up flowers, tomatoes and green beans. “A scarecrow can be enhanced by using the Mylar tape as hair,” reads a page on the online auction site.

Um, okay.

Libraries don’t want cassettes — at least the Montgomery County Friends of the Library, to which I’ve donated books in the past, doesn’t. They stipulate CDs and vinyl only.

Goodwill takes prerecorded cassette tapes, the ones that record labels released, said Brendan Hurley of Goodwill of Greater Washington. Of mix tapes, Brendan said, “While we will accept them if donated, they’re probably not going to be sold as they are difficult to move.”

And as for recycling, Montgomery County says no. Actually, they don’t mention cassettes at all. But since they tell residents to put CD and DVD jewel cases in the regular trash, I’m assuming that’s where tapes go, too.

Art Jaso of Silver Spring suggested a company called GreenDisk. Based in “the other Washington,” it safely recycles what it calls “obsolete technology” from across the country.

You can pack your own box with up to 25 pounds of stuff — cassette tapes, ink cartridges, videotapes, cellphones — and mail it at your expense. This Technotrash Pack-IT service costs $11.95.

Or go in with some friends for a $47.95 Technotrash Can. That’s good for up to 35 pounds of recyclables, and GreenDisk throws in the box and the shipping. (Visit greendisk.com.)

“We don’t see a lot of cassette tapes,” said David Beshchen, founder of the company. “But we do have one big customer in your neighborhood: The Library of Congress is obsoleting all of their books for the blind, which are cassette tapes. We’re making sure the content gets destroyed and the material is being recycled.”

(Don’t worry: In 2009, the library started transitioning to digital Talking Books.)

The tape itself can’t be recycled — yet. David said they’re working with a company that is close to perfecting a process that will allow even the magnetized brown ribbon to find new life as something other than scarecrow hair. But the plastic housing and the hinged cases can be recycled now.

Mailing off old mix tapes might seem like overkill, but if you’re a tree hugger, it might be worth it.

“About 30 percent of the people who use our service use it exclusively because they just want to recycle,” David said.

The remainder have a corporate policy that stipulates that sensitive material — medical or financial records on discs — or intellectual property, such as recorded music or movies, must be destroyed.

David said cassettes and their cases are typically made of polypropylene or polystyrene. I asked him what the recycled plastic ends up as.

Most of it, he said, goes to the auto industry.

That seems fitting. The Cars could end up in a car.

As I type this, the sun is shining. It may rain tomorrow. Who knows, it may even snow before winter is over.

But spring will come. To herald its arrival, it’s again time for my annual Springtime in Washington Haiku Contest. You remember: a pattern of 5-7-5 syllables, and the haiku should have a Washington theme, however you choose to interpret that.

Send your entries — with “D.C. Haiku” in the subject line — to me at john.kelly@washpost.com. I’ll print my favorites and pick a winner. The deadline is March 26.

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