Ever since Thomas Edison concocted the first method for recording imagery, motion pictures if you will, there’s been a system in place where there is a lens, a recording media, and a transport system for that media. Until the 1960s that media was necessarily film. Finally at that time, engineers were able to make practical the television system invented by Philo T. Farnsworth in 1939. He is the father of video. Video differs from film in that film uses a chemical process to imprint the image and later process it into viewable images. Video uses an electronic process where the camera ‘scans’ the image field 30 times per second. A great advantage of video is that that scanned and recorded image is immediately available for transmission or further manipulation. Film must be chemically processed before it can be viewed.

All this came along nicely with better cameras and recording mechanisms until around 1990, when HD televisions was introduced. This ‘High Definition’ video is a great improvement over the old ‘NTSC’ standard used by the US. Around the same time, digital storage mechanisms began to come into their own. At first these were digital cassettes – still using videotape but recording a digital, as opposed to the former analog recording. But from there is was only a matter of time before digital storage left the tape behind, going fist to CD/DVD type discs and finally to fancy flash cards, the most popular being Sony’s SxS and Panasonic’s P2 cards.

Hence, we’ve come to the end of an era. No longer is videotape being used as a recording medium.


What we have now, whether with home movies or in corporate studios, is a plethora of old tapes and films that rely on old machines to be viewed, if the tape isn’t completely corroded or the equipment isn’t functional.

The way forward involves digitizing these old tapes where the material is of value, and letting go of old tapes that have little relevance today. In the corporate world, so much of what old footage contains is of little value – old training tapes, announcements from 20 years ago, etc. At the same time, landmark moments and iconic figures are best preserved. Similarly, your old, worn copy of Star Wars is not worth preserving, as LucasFilms will have it available forever. Now that birthday party when your little girl turned 4? Of course that’s worth saving.


Now, videotape is not Earth-friendly. The mylar plastic base of most tape can be recycled, but only after the rather nasty concoction of particulate that makes magnetic tape do what is does is removed. This is not a do-it-yourself project.

Indeed, there are only a few responsible options for recycling videotapes. The one we chose is Green Disk, located in Washington D.C. They first separate the the tape from the cassette cases, and then process the actual tape to remove the toxic chemicals and then recycle the mylar and process the toxic chemicals. This is really the only responsible way to address video, audio and data (magnetic) tape.

The less responsible option is dumping your tapes into a landfill, or perhaps taking it to a potentially bogus recycling center, where they will still end up in a landfill, if first shredded. Not a big deal for a few tapes, but kind of a bid deal when we’re looking at hundreds or thousands of pounds, as we were here at Panoptic. This picture shows the four pallets we sent to Green Disk for processing and recycling. We’ll soon get a Certificate showing we’re good stewards of the Earth  – to us a far better measure than quarterly earnings.