How to Recycle and Repurpose Old CDs

Don't let them gather dust or send them to a landfill.

a flat lay shot of cd's and a picture frame and hot glue gun for upcycling

Treehugger / Lexie Doehner

CDs are recyclable, but you can’t just throw them in your curbside recycling bin. Now that listening to music has shifted to online streaming services, you may have loads of dusty CDs sitting in boxes in your home. There’s a right way to recycle or repurpose them.

Compact discs are made out of polycarbonate plastic, which is classified as a No. 7 or “other” plastic. These plastics are often more difficult to recycle. CDs sometimes also contain traces of aluminum and gold, which are easily recyclable materials. You may have to work harder to find a place to recycle your old CDs, but there are also plenty of smart, eco-friendly ways to reuse them.

How to Recycle CDs 

hand drops off paper liner off CD case into blue recycling bin

Treehugger / Lexie Doehner

CDs often come in three parts: the shiny plastic CD itself, the CD case, and the paper liner notes that are slipped into the case. Sometimes only one or two of the components are recyclable. 

Curbside Pick-up and Drop-off Centers

It can be difficult to find recycling options, but you shouldn't throw your CDs in the trash. It’s estimated that it will take more than 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill. And if CDs are burned, they can release harmful chemicals in the air including hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and dioxins. Polycarbonate plastic contains BPA, or bisphenol-A, which has links to health issues such as reproductive problems, early puberty, blood pressure, and heart disease. 

In most cases, you can’t put plastic CDs in with your normal recycling for curbside pickup. But just in case, check your community website to see if they are accepted. Sometimes, the plastic CD cases are able to be recycled at the curb, because they are made of more easily recyclable No. 6 plastic. The good news is that the liner notes are recyclable and can go in your bin. (Some municipal waste collection services, however, may say that the garbage is the best place for old CDs. They can't be bothered because there's no value in it for them.)

If you can’t recycle CDs at home, you may be able to find a nearby drop-off recycling center that accepts them. They could fall into your municipality's e-waste category. Use Earth911’s search tool to see if they are recyclable in your area. You may have to separate the CDs from their cases before you can drop them off.

Mail-in Programs

close-up shot of hand putting CD into brown paper mailer

Treehugger / Lexie Doehner

If you can’t find a local solution, reach out to companies like the CD Recycling Center of America (temporarily closed due to the pandemic) or GreenDisk (still operating). You can mail your CDs to these centers and they’ll make sure they are recycled for new uses. According to the CD Recycling Center of America, specialized recycling companies will clean, grind, blend, and compound the CDs into a plastic that can be reused for items such as auto parts, office equipment, and street lights. 

The CD Recycling Center doesn’t charge for its service, other than the cost of postage. GreenDisk charges a small fee, but also takes other types of e-waste including hard drives, floppy discs, and VHS tapes. GreenDisk assures customers that it handles waste responsibly:

"Material that has no further operating life is broken down to its smallest components (metals, plastics, etc.) and used in the manufacturing of new products. Unlike some recycling companies, almost 100% of the material that GreenDisk collects is reused or recycled. No hazardous materials or obsolete components go overseas to be processed or disposed of."

Ways to Reuse CDs

over shoulder shot of someone hot gluing broken CD pieces onto picture frame

Treehugger / Lexie Doehner

You also can get creative with your CDs by repurposing and reusing them. Although you might not want your music anymore, other people could be interested in listening. Look for record stores or online sites that buy used music, like Decluttr or Amazon. Consider offering them for sale in social media groups or on Craigslist. Don’t worry if CDs have minor scratches. Some record stores have equipment that will repair them. You can fix some at home by rubbing a dab of non-gel toothpaste on the non-label side of the CD.

If you’d rather donate your CDs, box them up and drop them off at a library or a local nonprofit group. You might be able to donate them to schools or nursing homes. Thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army will resell used CDs and give them a second life while making money for their cause.

cd dreamcatcher mandala crafts
Turn CDs into dreamcatchers and mandalas.  gabrielabertolini / Getty Images

If you’re feeling crafty, CDs can be repurposed in all sorts of ways. Give them to kids with a little glue and whatever’s in your craft box. Use them as Christmas tree ornaments, drink coasters, or ice scrapers for your windshield. Cut them in pieces and create some sparkle around frames and mirrors. You could also hang them in a vegetable garden to spin and startle birds, protecting your plants from unwanted raids. The options are endless, so there's no reason to let used CDs gather dust in your drawer or send them to a landfill.

One final note: While Treehugger would prefer to avoid tossing items in landfill whenever possible, it might be your only option for old CDs, depending where you live, and that is preferable to spending the rest of your life surrounded by stress-inducing clutter. So don't feel horribly guilty if that's what you end up doing, and let it be a lesson for future purchases, that considering the whole life cycle of an item is worthwhile.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How can you tell which type of plastic you're trying to recycle?

    In some cases, the Resin Identification Code (1-7) is embossed on the plastic itself inside the distinctive "chasing arrows" triangle. In others, it's not, and you have to decipher the plastic type yourself.

  • Can DVDs be recycled with CDs?

    CDs and DVDs can look identical, and although they differ slightly in makeup, they typically contain the same materials. Therefore, CDs and DVDs can be recycled together. The cases, on the contrary, are very different, with DVD "clamshells" being made of PP 5 wrapped in a PET 1 translucent film.