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  • Leah Cee

Decluttering VHS Tapes

Hands up who has at least one VHS tape in their home? Hands up who has a VHS player on which to play VHS? If your hand shot up in a flash, you're not alone.

These old clunkers, now more likely to be a museum piece than a functional form of entertainment, still lurk in many a garage, spare room, wardrobe or even the living room. Hugely popular in the late 70's and 80's (who didn't have a copy of Top Gun or Dirty Dancing?), VHS was a mainstay in most western homes giving viewers a greater choice over what they watched and when.

VHS and Betamax went head to head in the consumer market to dominate the home video industry. Despite Beta being far better quality, VHS won the battle with its more affordable price point and thus began a frustrating search through a limited range of titles at Blockbuster if you owned a Betamax machine.

Enter the DVD in 1996 and all that rewinding and fast forwarding soon lost its shine. As did the grainy, sometimes rather poor resolution oxide coated magnetic tapes, as a reliable format.

By 2008, the last stand-alone VHS unit rolled off the production line at JVC, although some manufacturers continued to make VHS/DVD combo units even though VHS usage was fast declining.

Even though the VHS/Beta technology is now largely obsolete, many households still hold onto, if not the machines, but the tapes - generally for sentimental or historical reasons, or they form part of a collection.

So, what do we do now with these unmistakable plastic chunks of nostalgia?

Well, there are three options:

1. I still love and watch my VHS tapes on my Panasonic / JVC / Sony VHS player

Don't do anything. Keep loving them.

If you chose Option 1, then decluttering your VHS tapes is not a priority and you probably clicked on this link by mistake. Enjoy your movies!

2. I still love them but never watch them and don't have anything to play them on.

Release them.

Ask yourself why you need to keep something that isn't being used and isn't going to be used in the near or far future. If the need arises, could you borrow from someone who does have it, or could the movie / doco / tv show / event, be found on an alternate format (DVD, Netflix, Disney+, Stan, Hulu, Foxtel, Amazon Prime, Binge, youtube or any other streaming service?

If you're thinking - "but I don't want to pay for streaming to watch this movie", then the movie probably isn't that important. Unless you borrow or buy yourself a VHS player, you're not watching it anyway. Let's cut to the chase - it's just taking up precious space in your home for someone to chuck in a skip once you've popped off this earth.

Free up your space. Some charity stores still take VHS tapes and trash and treasure collectors may buy them for between about 10 cents and 50 cents a piece. They may attract a slightly higher price if they are uniquely collectible, but don't assume you're sitting on a gold mine. You're not.

At least not with VHS tapes.

3. I have a bunch of home movies of my friends and family. No way am I getting rid of them.

My advice - act now.

If you have nostalgic videos of dear family and friends, please get your VHS tapes digitised - and I would be making this a priority. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the oxide on those VHS tapes is not going to last forever and you are running the risk of not having the memories if you do watch the tapes down the track. You may just be viewing a whole bunch of black.

Backup Backup Backup - if for no other reason, you should have a backup of these memories. If you were to lose the original VHS copies, at least you will have a digitial copy that ideally would be on a computer, plus at least two hard drives - one stored off site.

There are many companies who can digitise your VHS memories to a USB or alternate data source. Google search, "VHS to digital" and you'll find companies in your area who can perform the task. Prices vary but as a guide, budget around $10 - $15 per 3 hour tape plus the cost of the USB. A 3 hour (180 minute) tape is about 4GB worth of data.

And last, share those memories around with family and friends so someone else has a copy of them. They can be enjoyed and remembered by more than just yourself. Quite often no-one else in your family will know of their existence until you share them.

Disposing of VHS Tapes

If the tapes are studio produced and they're not fit for the charity shop or you just want them gone quickly, the simplest thing to do is remove the cardboard sleeve and recycle it, then put the tape in landfill. It pains me to say that, but I have taken VHS tapes apart and removed the tape to find that it's a rather messy and time consuming process for most of the object to end up in landfill anyway. The oxide tape cannot be recycled and must go into landfill. The casing is a little tricky to remove once you take the five screws out and to be honest I'm not sure of the health implications when inhaling whatever little tiny chemicals the tape exudes.

By all means research the health risks at your own leisure and if you're happy there's no risk involved, then separate the recyclable bits into a hard plastic recycling bin and bin the rest.

If the tapes feature sensitive information or vision you'd rather not have in someone else's possession then total destruction would be advised. Either smash those tapes into smithereens with a sledge hammer (please wear goggles!), or employ the services of a secure e-waste disposal company like Shred-X.

Unfortunately the makers of VHS and Beta didn't employ any environmentally friendly practices in the process of this technology, so we are now stuck with more and more waste going into landfill. It really does make you think about what will happen to your future purchases, and ultimately the health of our planet.

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