Short answer: Yes, you can recycle guitar strings, provided you have somewhere nearby that takes guitar strings. However, there are a few cosiderations you’ll have to take into account when choosing to put your old guitar strings in the recycling bin.
Importance of recycling
With the climate heating up, and waste piling up everywhere we look, it’s good we’re taking the initiative to recycle the materials we use. Doing so will ensure that the materials don’t end up somewhere as trash, and so we don’t exhaust the planet even further by reusing these materials.
Guitar strings are often overlooked because of their small size, but the instrument string business is huge. Companies like Ernie Ball and D’addario use large amounts of metal to create their strings. Ernie Ball actually reuses old gas cans to create their strings, so they’re already actively busy with recycling.
It only seems natural to want to recycle guitar strings, and it can absolutely be done.
Most guitar strings are either made of nickel, brass, or stainless steel. These metals are all recyclable. Usually, these types are common in construction and household items.
Nickel is often used in electric guitar strings, but also batteries and coins. Coins don’t tend to be recyclable for obvious reasons, but batteries are absolutely recycled in large quantities. Nickel is a cheap material that can withstand extreme temperatures, thus its use in batteries. This makes it hard to recycle though, but it’s still done.
Brass is usually used for acoustic guitar strings, but also for many other purposes. It’s a very durable and relatively cheap metal that works well for different applications, like for use in homes and construction parts. It’s also very hygienic, in the sense that bacteria tend not to adhere to the metal as it’s not a suitable home for them. This makes it great for usage in places where maintaining good hygiene is important (kitchens and hospitals for example.) Musical instruments are often made out of brass, thus the logically named ‘brass’ section in a jazz band. Brass is harder to recycle, but it’s definatey possible.
Stainless steel is a more premium material that doesn’t corrode. It’s very popular in construction, as well as in utensils like knives and forks. This material is often used for surfaces that come in contact with moisture, to prevent corrosion. This material is also often used in more premium guitar strings to make them last longer. Like brass, this metal is also very clean. This material is being used more and more in guitar strings as well, as it helps with sustaining the life of the frets. (Quick tip: if you plan to refret a guitar, go for stainless steel fretwire, it will last much longer and need less polishing). Stainless steel is often recycled since it’s such an important material for many purposes.
All this sounds good and all, but are guitar strings actually recyclable? As I said, it is possible to recycle guitar strings, but it’s not as easy as just throwing your old guitar strings into the recycling bin. Thanks to D’Addario, guitar strings can be recycled by bringing them to certain locations like music stores.
Guitar strings are not accepted by US recycling services, so D’Addario took matters into their own hands. They teamed up with Terracycle to create their own instrument string recycle service. You just bring your old strings to one of the locations and they’ll make sure the strings are seperated, smelted, and formed into new alloys.
You can even earn rewards while doing so, like Player Circle points that can be used for discounts on D’Addario products.
What about non conventional types of guitar strings?
What I couldn’t find is if coated strings are recyclable. Coated strings are very popular as they last much longer, corrode less, and to some sounds ‘warmer’, whatever that means. The coating is made of a plastic polymer, which is in most cases recyclable, but not in the same way as metal. Nylon strings are recyclable, but they have to be separated from the metal strings in order to be recycled. This implies that coated strings should be separated from steel strings as well, but D’Addario doesn’t seem to say whether this is true or not. Same with strings of other materials like cobalt, or coloured strings.
D’Addario does say that you can bring in strings of any brand, which is nice to know if you’re not a fan of D’Addario strings.
So, are strings recyclable? Short answer: yes. Long answer: depending on where you live and if you have access to a location that takes the type of guitar strings you use.
Recycling is crucial for not only fixing, but also maintaining any improvements made to the current climate. Recycling is already required by law in lots of places and instances, and for good measure, as it’s one of the few ways we can save our earth from permanent climate crises.
By the way, if you liked this post you should check out some of our other string related content, like our take on how often you should change your strings, the effects of putting nylon strings on a steel string guitar, and the story behind the guitar center string club!