Sunday, June 11, 1995
Los Angeles Times
TECHNOLOGY; Erasing Our Videotape Waste; Recycling videocassettes may not be the biggest moneymaker, but green-minded entrepreneurs have found that keeping all that plastic out of landfills can be priceless to the environment.;
By: Jerry Crowe
Jerry Crowe is a Times staff writer
Andy Carpel enjoys telling a story about his daughter, Jessica, who was approached by another girl one day at school:
"The kid said, 'My daddy's a TV reporter. He makes television shows. What does your daddy do?'
"And Jessica said to her, 'My daddy erases them.' "
Carpel, president of Carpel Video in Frederick, Md., is a videotape recycler. His company and others like it, including MSE Video Tape Services in Commerce and Keith Austin Enterprises in Santa Barbara, have found a market for used videotapes. "They were meant to be reused," Carpel said. "They're not like toothbrushes or underwear."
Environmentalists, however, fear that not enough videocassettes are being recycled and that increasing numbers of them are going to wind up in landfills as they wear out and, ultimately, are rendered obsolete by emerging technologies.
Used product accounted for less than 1% of the $7 billion generated by the sales of videotapes in the United States last year, Carpel and others in the industry say.
"There's no doubt it's a big problem," said Kris St. Claire, director of ECOMedia in Canoga Park, a nonprofit group that recycles tapes and donates or sells them at low cost to other nonprofit organizations. "And other than asking consumers not to use their VCRs, I don't think the problem is going to go away."
Of the more than 900 million videocassettes that were produced in the United States last year, fewer than 1% probably will be recycled, said Keith Austin of Keith Austin Enterprises.
"It's a matter of education and application," said Austin, who claims to have invented the videotape recycling business in 1969. "As we educate more, more people think it's a good idea and they start utilizing recycled tape. But the education process is slow."
Recycling takes three forms: * Prerecorded tapes can be bulk-erased (through a process called degaussing) and reused.
* Used or damaged tape can be removed from the shell and replaced with erased or virgin tape.
* Tape can be removed and the shells ground up for recycling into other plastic products.
"The major part of the cassettes themselves are recyclable," said George McBride, manager of engineering and tech support for Maxell Corp. of America, which produces about 10 million videocassettes a month. "The tape itself is a bit more of a problem. It is possible to recycle some of the material in magnetic tape but not all--at the moment.
"As we try to break away from our dependence on oil products, we will see a trend toward more and more recycling. Hopefully, all magnetic media products will be included in that."
According to "Choose to Reuse," a guide to recycling, one-sixth gallon of petroleum is required to produce one half-inch VHS tape, the type most commonly used by consumers. As much as a gallon is needed to produce the
broadcast-standard tapes used by television and cable operators. Thus, every discarded videocassette represents a loss of this energy, compounded by the space taken up in landfills by the bulky plastic housing.
Adding to the problem is that recycling VHS tapes, which are far and away the most abundant of all videotapes, is the least profitable part of the industry.
"That's because they're so cheap to begin with," said Carpel, adding that VHS accounts for about 25% of the more than 200,000 tapes that pass through his plant each year but only about 5% to 10% of the gross sales.
"You can buy a VHS tape for, like, two bucks. So why buy a recycled one for a buck and a half or a buck and a quarter?"
Austin, whose company erases, refurbishes and recycles about 300,000 videotapes each year, does not deal at all with VHS. "To me, it's a nickel-and-dime business," he said. "I'd rather deal in a higher-priced business."
Martin Schorr, owner of MSE Video Tape Services, said VHS accounts for about 30% of the 500,000 videotapes that his company recycles each year.
"It's unfortunate," he said, "that a lot of the users of videotape throughout the country are not aware that it can be recycled and that there are companies like ours that are more than happy to give them money
Although Schorr's company has taken in as many as 20,000 tapes at a time from its clients, it has also taken in as few as 20.
And every little bit helps, suggested Nikki Goldbeck, co-author of "Choose to Reuse."
"Can the recouping of videotapes alone save enough landfill to make a dent? Not by themselves," she said. "But in conjunction with all these other reuse strategies that people can take advantage of, it can be a significant contribution. . . .
"This is a problem that exists in almost every area of our lives. Things become obsolete, we just throw them away."*
GRAPHIC-DRAWING: (...), PAUL CORIO / For The Times
Descriptors: ENVIRONMENT; PLASTICS; RECYCLING; VIDEO RECORDINGS;
Copyright (c) 1995 Times Mirror Company