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Upcycle Old Audio Compact Cassettes and VHS Tapes

Updated on August 20, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I love searching for bargains in yard sales, thrift stores and charity shops. As fast as I donate items, I acquire new ones.

Unwanted VHS Video Tapes

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Have You Got a Collection of Compact Cassettes or VHS Tapes?

If you grew up in the ‘70s or ‘80s you will remember compact audio cassette tapes. They were so revolutionary at the time that vinyl long-playing (LP) records were predicted to become obsolete as these small analog tapes took over. You could buy not only prerecorded cassette tapes, but also blank ones to record your favorite song tracks. There was no better way to show your affection as a seventies teenager than to prepare a cassette of “special songs” for your loved one.

However, analog tapes themselves become outdated. They gave way to digital in the eighties and nineties. Digital recording was the newer, cheaper and more convenient kid on the block. It took over the audio market and made tape cassettes seem old-fashioned.

Recently there has been a mini-revival of interest in vinyl records. However, the same is not true for audio and VHS cassettes. No-one wants to buy them and it is almost impossible to give them away. Even thrift stores and charity shops do not want them. The result is more landfill.

People keep their audio tape collections for years for sentimental reasons but boxes of old cassettes (often hundreds of tapes in each collection) take up valuable space. When moving house or downsizing, these old collections usually get thrown in the trash. So, what can you do to prevent this waste?

Music and VHS Cassette Tapes

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10 Ideas for Repurposing Old Tapes

1. If you are a gardener, protect your crops by stringing old cassette tape across bean-poles or tall sticks. Sunlight reflecting on the shiny tape and the wind making weird sounds blowing on it should frighten birds away,

2. The cardboard inserts make good luggage tags. You can readdress your suitcases each time you go on holiday to ensure they arrive at the correct hotel.

3. Lovers of retro-fashion can use the small tapes as a 70s style belt buckle. I have heard they sell well at craft fairs, although it depends on how expertly they have been upcycled.

4. From the same 70s fashion era, you could make a pendant using some tape as the “necklace” and a cassette as the “stone”.

5. The tape can be used instead of twine or string. It is strong and virtually unbreakable making it good for tying parcels. However, because it is so difficult to tear, keep it out of reach of small children as there is a risk of strangulation.

6. Sailors could use lengths of the tape as “tell-tales”. Attach pieces to both sides of the jib and you can easily tell the wind direction.

7. The tape can be used instead of knitting yarn. It is waterproof if knitted with a tight stitch. With patience, you can create unusual (if slightly uncomfortable) knitted hats and bags.

8. The cassette boxes with tapes inside can be embedded into cement to create a unique and hardwearing path. Moonlight will reflect off the shiny tapes making the path sparkle at night.

9. Be creative and design your own artwork.

10. If none of these ideas appeal to you, you could copy Alex from London. He says on the BBC’s website “A few years ago I put all of my old tapes in a black bin bag outside my flat with a sign attached to it saying 'Dead media format, please help yourself'. The entire bag disappeared within an hour.”

3 DIY Craft Ideas From Cassette Tapes

DIY Ways to Reuse Old VHS and Cassette Tapes

The video above shows three simple ways to repurpose your old audio tapes. I particularly like the idea of making a cellphone desk stand out of the tape box-cover. Without this nifty holder, my phone frequently got lost under files and other stuff. This way it is always in view and makes my mobile phone a conveniently visible clock too.

The clip below shows another easy idea that is great if you have a houseful of kids. The plastic cassette covers are used to hold a variety of door-signs. A studious teenager can put a “do not disturb” sign on their door and then change it to “welcome” when they are ready for their siblings to bother them once more.

Recycle an Audio Cassette Into a Super Cool Door Sign

Sonic Fabric Made From Audio Tape Thread

A conceptual artist, Alyce Santoro, has a whacky idea for upcycling old audio cassette tapes. She creates sonic fabric by blending 50% cassette tape with 50% polyester thread. The resulting material has a strong and distinctive weave although it does not play music.

Alyce is interested in the sounds produced past present and future in the making of this fabric. The video below demonstrates the noisy weaving looms that are needed to cope with the coarseness of this thread. She used J. C. Lafond Company Weavers of Providence, New England to manufacture her unusual yarn.

Many years ago, when it first occurred to me to literally weave a fabric made of sound, I began by knitting with cassette tape. With the help of a textile artist I knew, knitting soon gave way to weaving using tape as weft and cotton thread as warp. The resulting material was quite surprising. It felt like a light canvas, but had a beautiful, mysterious sheen and not at all like the loose web I had been getting by knitting. I called it sonic fabric.

— “Fabric of Sound” Alyce Santoro

Sonic Fabric Factory

Repurpose and Upcycle ’70s and ‘80s Tapes

If you have an old tape player, you can enjoy listening to the music of another era. However, the old machines are no longer manufactured and it is difficult to find a second-hand one. Recycling the tapes is also not straightforward. The types of plastics used to make early audio tapes do not fit the categories accepted by most recycling depots. If you care about the environment and do not want to dump scarce resources, the only solution is to upcycle or repurpose these tapes.

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  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 2 months ago from New Delhi, India

    Cool and creative ideas to reuse and repurpose old cassettes ! I have many of them and I like the the idea of pencil holders very much!

    Thanks for sharing this interesting and informative hub!