For various reasons, compact discs (CDs) and digital videodiscs (DVDs) have become the most popular media for data storage — particularly for entertainment content. Yet the remarkably low expense of creating these discs out of plastic, metal, and dye, is creating a significant environmental problem. More than 45 tons of used CDs alone are discarded worldwide every month, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Even though these optical discs are made from recyclable materials, the vast majority of discarded discs ends up in landfills or incinerators.
To minimize the impact of CDs and DVDs upon the environment, we should bear in mind the time-tested principles of the Three R's: reduce, reuse, and recycle. To reduce the number of optical discs that you must purchase, search for online sources of the same information, which can be downloaded to your computer. An excellent example of this is the growing online music industry, which allows consumers to purchase and download MP3 files of their favorite songs, at low cost. Another example is to be found in the world of computer applications, since almost all software vendors now allow you to download full versions of their programs, which typically are unlocked using a serial number purchased from the firm over the Internet. This is faster, more ecologically responsible, and sometimes even cheaper than having the company ship a disc to you. In those cases where online versions of your desired product are not available, you can purchase used CDs and DVDs from such online merchants as Amazon.com and Half.com. Even more money can be saved by borrowing those same materials from your local library. Perhaps the best way to reduce the creation of evermore unwanted optical discs, is to request that you be removed from any mailing lists of firms that send out junk mail with enclosed CDs (think AOL).
Optical discs can be reused by selling them on the websites of the aforesaid online media merchants, or donating them to libraries or charities, or giving them away to family and friends. In addition, such discs can be easily transformed into safety reflectors attached to bicycles and roadside fences, or drink coasters after attaching some cork on one side of the disc, or toys for children and decorations for the holidays. Even NASA has tips on turning any CD or DVD disc into a model of the planet Saturn. Youngsters of all ages can probably come up with even more ideas.
But there will always be optical discs that you want to get rid of because they are in such bad shape that you cannot sell or donate them, or could result in gentle ribbing by your tech-savvy friends (again, think AOL). In those cases, you can always get the discs recycled, by sending them to an organization such as MRC Polymers or NESAR Systems (724-827-8172). These firms will recycle your old discs at no charge; you only pay the postage to ship the discs to them. GreenDisk charges $5.95 for 20 pounds or less; they also sell blank CD-RWs, blank diskettes, and jewel cases, all made from recycled discs.
Any of the above options would be better than tossing those discs into the trash, or flinging them across the office at your coworkers — though the latter can be fun, prior to recycling them.