Can You Recycle Vinyl Records? (Don’t Make These Mistakes)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

Unfortunately, records made after 1948 are made from PVC, which is toxic. Furthermore, the chemicals and heavy metals in vinyl records will leach into the soil and groundwater if they are put into landfills. 

So, continue reading to find out how to properly dispose of these records in the most environmentally friendly way!

Can You Recycle Vinyl Records?

Vinyl records can be recycled, but only if the city allows them. Records are made from PVC vinyl and most city recycling programs do not recycle PVC, also known as plastic #3. Alternatively, vinyl records can be sold, repurposed around the house, or offered on a community forum for free.

The problem with vinyl records is that they are made from polyvinyl chloride. This is the oldest form of plastic, and it is highly toxic. Therefore, keep reading to learn about how you can safely recycle vinyl records. 

Are Vinyl Records Bad For The Environment? 

Vinyl records are made from Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is the oldest type of plastic. 

It is rigid, but when plasticizers are added, it becomes more workable. 

Furthermore, plasticizers are added until the vinyl reaches the right consistency for the manufacturing purpose at hand. 

Therefore, because of this, PVC is an incredibly useful and widespread plastic that is used in many products around homes and communities.

  • Records. Of course, newer records are made from PVC. The oldest records were made from shellac, which is highly brittle. Later they were made from bakelite, a more hardy thermoset plastic before the industry settled on PVC. Unfortunately, these older materials are not recyclable
  • Pipes. PVC pipe is everywhere, and it is also hard to recycle, but there are more recycling facilities for PVC pipe than other vinyl materials
  • Vinyl fencing and siding for homes is a popular and sturdy solution that lasts for a long time. However, when it comes time to dispose of the old fencing and siding, we have a PVC problem
  • Faux leather is usually made of vinyl. This type of material ends up in the landfill
  • Vinyl window frames. Fortunately, the industry has its own recycling program to reuse vinyl window frames because they can recycle them and be confident of the composition for reuse
  • House gutters are usually made of vinyl so that they can be cut and shaped for a custom fit, are lightweight, and easy to install
  • Roadside cones and barrels are made from PVC vinyl for durability
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The products that contain vinyl or are made of vinyl are too numerous to recount. 

However, the problem with PVC vinyl is that it contains harmful chemicals like chlorine and heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. 

These contaminants are released into the environment whether you put them in a landfill, incinerate them, or recycle them. 

How To Recycle Vinyl Records

How To Recycle Vinyl Records

Mechanical recycling involves shredding the materials into a fine, homogenous mass that can be melted down and reused to create a new product that is made from PVC. 

These products are usually lesser quality products such as carpet backing, highway traffic cones, speed bumps, decking, and PVC furniture such as park benches. 

This is because the recycled PVC is of lesser quality because of inconsistent mixtures. 

However, industries that have developed their own system for PVC recycling have higher success rates with recycling products.

They can take their scrap materials and uninstalled products and use mechanical recycling to use the old PVC in the new products.

  • Record owners can ask their municipality if there is a mechanical recycling program for PVC or plastic #3 materials. If so, they can be placed with the rest of the curbside recycling
  • If they do not accept your records for recycling, owners can use the Vinyl Institute website to see if there is a vinyl recycler nearby that will accept them for drop-off. If there are enough records in one lot, it may be possible to find a recycler who will buy them
  • As a final resort, they can be put in the landfill

Therefore, before throwing vinyl records in the trash bin, you should check to see if mechanical recycling of vinyl records is possible in your city or if there are vinyl recyclers nearby.

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If not, then placing your vinyl records in the trash is one of the few other alternatives. 

Where To Recycle Vinyl Records

Not every city has the capability to deal with certain plastics. Plastic #3, or PVC vinyl is one of those plastics. 

This includes items like fruit clamshells, plastic wrap, plastic dishes, and other items made from durable plastic. 

  • Placing items that are not recyclable in recycling bins can make the entire bin of items non-recyclable. This is because often municipalities sell recyclables to third-party recyclers who separate and sell the components at a profit
  • Adulterated recycling loads end up in landfills. Those records that go in the recycling bin in an area that does not recycle PVC could cause an entire semi-truck load of good recyclables to go to the landfill
  • It is less harmful to the environment to place the records in the landfill than to put them in the recycling bin without permission from the recycling company. This allows good recyclables to go through the recycling process and come back as clean containers

Keep in mind that non-recyclables can cause a rejection of an entire truckload of good recyclables. 

Even if you think placing vinyl records in mixed recycling helps the environment, always verify whether this is the correct recycling procedure in your area. 

How To Reuse And Upcycle Vinyl Records

If there is not a recycler nearby who will take PVC vinyl records, then people can try selling them or giving them away through Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or other community apps. 

Alternatively, they can be upcycled into various decorative and useful items around the house. 

Furthermore, these items can be sold on platforms such as Etsy as handmade artisan decor. 

Here are just a few other ideas for upcycling old records:

  • A wall clock-Trace and cut a silhouette picture into a vinyl record using a hot craft knife. Insert clockwork into the middle and display the artwork.
  • Silhouette art-Use a hot knife to cut logos and artwork silhouettes into records. These can be highly valuable in the arts and crafts market.
  • Coasters-Use a hot knife to cut the label out of the middle of some great old albums. Table protection with class.
  • Side tables-Layer multiple vinyl records together with a strong adhesive such as Gorilla Glue. Affix them to a tall wire planter stand for a great side table indoors or out.
  • Placemats-No craft skills are needed. Clean the records and place them on the table like placemats. 
  • Guitar picks-This one is well known in musician circles. Buy a guitar pick puncher. Punch picks out of records. 
  • Bookmarks-Using a hot knife, cut rectangular shapes from vinyl records. Use a hole punch to put a small hole toward the top and finish off with a ribbon or premade tassel. For an extra cool vibe, cut the middle out of the record that includes the album title.
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Furthermore, before discarding vinyl records into the trash, consider selling or reusing your vinyl records to reduce landfill waste and get more value out of them. 

To learn more, you can also read our posts on whether you can recycle bubble mailers, whether you can recycle Altoid tins, and whether you can recycle asthma inhalers.

Conclusion

Old vinyl records are made of PVC. This material is recyclable, but it is toxic so it is difficult to find companies who are capable of recycling it. However, a quick call to the municipal recycling center or waste pickup provider will tell you whether they can be put in the recycling bin or not.

If they can not be put into the recycling, then consider reusing them or giving them away before opting to put them in the garbage. However, putting them into the garbage is less destructive to the environment than wishfully recycling them, so if you can’t upcycle them do that instead.  

Author

  • Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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