Guitar strings are meant to be replaced. They are not intended to last the life of the guitar and are often replaced every 3-5 months through average playing. So, are guitar strings recyclable?
Guitar strings that are made from steel, nickel, nylon, and brass are recyclable. The majority of guitar strings have a steel wire or steel core that are plated with either nickel, brass, or steel. Steel is the most recycled metal in the world, enabling steel guitar strings to be easily recyclable. Nylon strings must be recycled separate from metal strings.
Continue reading to learn more about what types of strings are recyclable and how to do so.
Are Guitar Strings Recyclable?
Guitar strings are recyclable and there are a variety of services to assist. Services include the Guitar Center recycling program, D’Addario’s recycling Playback program, and dropping off at a local metal recycling center.
Strings break, become corroded, lose their elasticity, rust, etc. All of these factors send guitarists to the store to replace them. Although, are we able to recycle them? With so many guitarists around the world using six strings, the buildup of broken and discarded strings can mount up.
Companies like D’Addario have instituted a string recycling program to help with this issue. This program is called Playback and it allows guitarists to send in old strings to properly be recycled for free.
Let’s dive into the different types of strings and if they are recyclable.
Pure nickel guitar strings are becoming more and more nuanced. Not as many guitarists are using pure nickel guitar strings now as they used to. Today, companies like Ernie Ball and Fender use the term nickel-wound and nickel-plated. This means the strings are not pure nickel, they are plated in nickel. Meaning they have a steel core wire, wrapped with a steel wire, and platted in nickel.
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Originally, it was a steel wire wrapped with a pure nickel wrap. This is much different and provides an entirely changed tone. So let’s find out if these original strings are recyclable.
Guitarists believe that eventually pure nickel strings will make a comeback. This is because they give off a warm and dark jazz tone, offering a better balance between high and low strings. And fortunately, nickel strings are recyclable. Nickel is a common metal found in a bevy of household products and accessories. Because of this, many metal recycling centers are established to facilitate the recycling of this metal.
The majority of guitar strings, both acoustic and electric, have a steel core. Specifically, steel alloys. The most common electric guitar string are nickel-plated steel strings. Nickel-plated is not pure nickel. Instead, it is 92% an alloy of steel and only 8% nickel.
As discussed above, there is also the pure nickel strings that are ever so rare. Although, even with these strings, there is still a steel wire.
But is all this steel recyclable? Yes, steel strings and composites are recyclable and is in fact the most recycled metal on earth. Being the most common metal found in guitar strings, environmentalists would be happy to hear that steel containing strings are recyclable and are the most recycled type of guitar strings in the world.
Brass is another common metal found in guitar strings. Brass strings are also known as 80/20 bronze. This means that it is made from 80% copper and 20% zinc. The result of this is a bright and piercing tone. Guitarists that want a brighter tone often use brass plated strings. There is still a steel core / wire.
Brass being another common metal found in an array of products outside of music, it is easily recyclable. This makes brass guitar strings also easily recyclable.
Nylon strings are easy to play and especially easy to slide. They are often used on classical guitars and are known for their unique tone. The tone is warm and relaxed, perfect for classical and fingerpicking songs. The genre of music this typically pertains to is slow folk music.
Although, Nylon is not a metal, so are they recyclable? Yes, Nylon strings are recyclable. Although, they are not recycled the same way that metal strings are. In fact, it is important to separate them from metal strings when recycling otherwise they will be thrown away once received at the metal recycling center. The best way to recycle nylon strings is to bring them to your local guitar center.
How To Recycle Guitar Strings
The best way to recycle strings is using the program Playback which is the worlds leading string recycling program. To recycle guitar strings, create a Players Circle account, ship them to Playback, and that is it. Playback also has local string recycling centers as well that you can drop your strings off at.
The caveat to this method is that they require a minimum of 2lbs of strings to be sent. This means you may be sitting on some old strings, waiting for more to break in order to send out to Play Back. Although, many guitarists including myself, do not see this as an issue. They are powered by Terracycle, an international upcycling and recycling company that repurposes waste into new, innovative materials and products.
Play Back recycles 1.5 million pounds of instrumental strings every year which equates to eight million strings. Their goal for 2022 is to recycle ten million strings. Furthermore, Playback is only available in the United States. You can check out their website here.
The other way to recycle guitar strings is to bring them to a local metal recycling center. Most cities and towns have these centers that make it easy to recycle strings in a responsible way. Advise them on the metals that are in the strings and they will take care of the rest. This is the method I most often use.
The final way which may be the easiest is to go to your local Guitar Center. The majority of Guitar Center’s take used strings and recycle them for you. Since there are so many Guitar Center’s in each US state, this makes recycling strings easy and with no minimums like Playback.
How Do You Dispose of Guitar Strings?
To dispose of used guitar strings, the three best options are:
- Bring them to your local guitar center to recycle
- Send them to Playback to recycle them properly
- Bring them to your local metal recycling center
If these methods are not possible, then normal disposal methods are necessary. For Nylon strings, this may be the case.
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