From vinyl records to downloading / streaming, my lifetime has witnessed the technological iterations of recorded music delivery to consumers. The compact disc was commercially released in 1982. They were an immediate hit: over 400K CD players were sold in the U.S. between 1983 and 1984, despite the fact thay retailed for up to $1,000. Four years later CD sales in the country surpassed those of vinyl LPs. Then in 1992, sales of them outstretched those of prerecorded music cassettes.

CD trivia:

> The first artist to sell a million copies of an album on CD was Dire Straits’ 1985 project Brothers in Arms.

> David Bowie was the first artist to have his entire catalog converted to the CD format.

> In 1988, 400M compact disks were manufactured by 50 pressing plants, worldwide.

The CD’s Decline

Early in the 21st Century CD sales peaked in the United States. With the burgeoning popularity of minijack auxiliary inputs, wired connection to USB devices, and wireless Bluetooth, compact disc sales began to soften. Between the turn of the century and 2008, major-label CD sales declined overall by 20 per cent. By 2012, CDs (and DVDs) accounted for but 34 per cent of U.S. music sales. Three years later U.S. compact disc sales reached only 6 per cent of the highest sales level, in 2000. (The stats quoted were sourced from Wikipedia.)

What next?

I still own dozens of CDs and DVDs but I cannot remember the last time I purchased anything new in these formats. I guess that means I’ve made the transition to the post-disc culture. Problem is, what does one do with the collection of UFO-like shiny discs that I am less and less likely to listen to or to view?

Recycling, or course! But the answer isn’t an easy one.

Ofttimes CDs / DVDs have three components. There’s the disc itself, its plastic case (No. 6), and the paper liner notes slipped into the case. It must be noted that there is no uniform method to recycle this media. Its estimated that more than 1 million years will pass before a disc to completely decompose in a landfill. Burning them releases dioxins, hydrochloric acid, and sulfur dioxide. The polycarbonate plastic surrounding the aluminum data disc contains bisphenol-A (BPA), a substance that’s been linked to such daunting afflictions as reproductive problems, heart disease, early puberty, and blood pressure.

Generally, one really can’t rid oneself of discs via curbside recycling. Sometimes their cases can be recycled; of course, the liner notes can go in the bin. Here are a few options for disposing of those pesky little “flying saucers.”

If the CD / DVD is in mint condition and its title is popular with collectors, you might find a resale shop in your area. Or, visit Decluttr, Amazon, or DIY projects for repurposing old discs can be found at Earth911. Check also with CD Recycling Center of America or GreenDisk, which lists state-by-state info regarding places that accept DVDs and CDs. If no local option is available you can mail discs to these entities. They clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a plastic that can be used to manufacture street lights, office equipment, and auto parts. GreenDisk, which charges a small processing fee (CD Recycling Center does not), can also deal with hard drives, VHS tapes, and 5.5″ floppy disks (remember those?).

It may be possible to save lightly scratched discs by rubbing non-gel toothpaste on their non-label side. Of course, CDs / DVDs can also potentially be donated to the library, to schools, and nonprofits. Thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill will sell used discs to help fund their operations.

The bottom line: we really don’t have an excuse for dumping these media into the earth.

2 thoughts on “CD CD?

  1. Rob: Unsettling facts, even for those of us who have a very modest (maybe 50?) collection of compact disks. This situation supports a movement to a system of end-to-end pricing where a manufacturer is responsible for disposal, and buyers have to pay a “recycling fee/deposit up front. It’s high enough that is worth it to the owners to recycle to get their “deposit” back. Of course it is too late to apply that now to disks – and make any real dent in the number of disks out there in the world. But it would certainly reduce the number being manufactured.


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