How can I reuse or recycle in-ear headphones?

HeadphonesI can’t stand anything in my ears but I have a few friends who love their music delivered right to their ear drums.

For one reason or another, they go through headphones like billy-o. Sometimes the wires break or get damaged and sometimes it’s one or other of the ear pieces that goes – and given the amount of people using iPods and the like these days, thousands of pairs of broken headphones must end up on the rubbish tip each week.

So any suggestions for ways to recycle or reuse them? Is cannibalisation possible – taking working bits from a couple of pairs and sticking them together? And what about preventative measures to stop them breaking in the first place?

(Photo by ravuri_rp)

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27 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle in-ear headphones?”

  1. Steve says:

    I’m not sure they can be recycled unless people want to use the connector and cable to make a new cable for something. It might be possible to replace the cable if it gets damaged, but would be difficult to make a tidy join to the earphones as they will not be easy to open up.

    It seems these items have become disposable. I’ve seen them sold for under a pound.

    It would be better if you could buy MP3 players etc without the headphones so you had the option to re-use those you already have. The included ones are usually pretty bad anyway.

    • Hi,
      I use broken headphones in my Eco jewelery lines as well as other non recyclable items like dental floss boxes. If you would like to know more and purchase my products then please e-mail me at :goddessphotography(AT)

  2. Martin says:

    Might be better to reduce rather than reuse in this case.

    The cables are so thin they can break anywhere, but if it was at the end you could perhaps make an audio extension cable. Alternatively combine a bunch and use as speaker cable. But think reducing is the best option here.

    Perhaps convince your friends to get some longer lasting / better quality ones. Therefore still preventing landfill which is the aim.

  3. BibiMac says:

    again its an avoid thing but i prefer out of ear ones

    theyre stronger so last longer

  4. Louisa, could you post an item for the out of ears ones? Its just my school library has a load of earphones that have been wrecked due to mis-use and generally been used to much. We have around four pairs… And why havent you answered my e-mails yet?

  5. Jbright says:

    Strip the plastic from the wire and you are left with just copper witch can recycled as scrap metal. I don’t know about the ear buds they should have a small magnet inside that could be fun to play with.

  6. CMoney says:

    I always use extra cables, cords, etc that have shorts or are worn to tie other cords with… keeping them neat. Use that 3+ feet of light cord as string or take a few of them and braid them together to make a nice short, handy rope.

  7. Canadian girl says:

    I have a pair of in ear JVC headphones, for which I lost the in-ear part. I emailed JVC through their website, and within the week I’ve gotten a new set of free covers. I really liked the headphones, and that’s why I tried (besides, this pair is sorta expensive).

    Alternatively, give the wires to the local high school electronics club? I remember ours had a huge box’o’wires for various purposes. I’m sure they’d find a use for the small speakers too.

  8. fishcake_random says:

    Use the wire as cordage/string in the garden as it should last quite well being plasic covered. Use the foam ear covers as slippers for a barbie doll or make some earmuffs for a dolly instead.

  9. Mike says:

    I had an expensive pair of headphones once that developed a break in one of the wires. I took a wire from a broken pair of these in-ear kind and used it to replace the broken part. A little electrical tape and I was good to go!

  10. janaltus says:

    I’ve got through so many (they would only last a few weeks) but I have now discovered how to reduce breakages. I reinforced my latest set with epoxy resin glue – at the weakest point – where the wires go into the earphones. They’ve lasted for about six months now – which, for me, is a record! I’ve now done the same for my headphones (as a “just-in-case”).

  11. Gulia says:

    Wash the foam, disinfect parts with rubbing alcohol and make a toy for a child to play doctor.

  12. Chris says:

    You could strip the plastic off of the headphones and recycle that. Thenyou would have the inside wire and that could be recycled too. The plastic part that covers the inner speaker is recyclable. Just take it apart and throw it in the recycling bin. They wont really care.

  13. Lizzy says:

    strip it to pieces and see what you’re left with:
    wire: loads of uses (jewellery, craft, and even more practical uses like fixing other things)

    plastic coating: if it’s still in one piece you could use it as garden twine

    earphones: if they have bits of sponge on them those parts could be used for cleaning in small places there’s also a magnet in there which you could use- maybe some magnetic earrings made with some of the copper wire and the magnet ?

    not sure about the rest- i’ve never taken earphones to bits – but when some break i certainly will =D . you could make junk jewellery i guess. you can use the bit you plug in as an instant mute when you quickly want to turn the sound off a computer or radio (for whatever secrecy reason (???)) , just have it half plugged in the socket and push it in the whole way.

    hope this helps

  14. Lizzy says:

    they’d make pretty cool toggle buttons on recycled DIY fashion items :)

  15. shadhe says:

    I always use mine (and i go through tons) As awesome and resistent string for pendants and beads, you can make tight little knots to hold beads in place and it’s really awesome and easy to use.
    For the earpieces themselves, i haven’t come up with anything other than re-fashioning them into weird industrial ear-rings, but that might be a bit off your mark.
    The jack itself is awesome if you also have the female part to use as connectors, keychains, bracelets, anything that needs clasping. Looks cool.

  16. Andrea says:

    well, if you are good at handi crafts, you could make some sort of geekery jewelry out of them. I made a ring out of one I had in my house. I am selling it in my Etsy Shop:

    Upcycled Ipod Earphone Ring

    just something to give you an idea. Great blog post. I bookmarked.

  17. Sara says:

    Well i didn’t try this, I was just thinking. But you could probably braid the separate wires together, and leave the earbuds hanging or tie them in a bow and make a bracelet(:

  18. Christy says:

    You can make earphone earrings!!!! Cut the earphones from the cable ( make sure to leave a little bit of the cable), then, take a toothpick and make a. Little hole at the top of the cable . Take some wire, slip the wire through the holes, and then twist them. Finally, take some earring hoops and… Yeah I forgot that part. Just search ” how to make earphone earrings ” and click the DIY and crafts website. You should find it there. Good luck! ;)

  19. Christy says:

    Or you can make earphone necklaces :)

  20. dodddummy says:

    I just started using the cords as shoe laces. They don’t slide as well as laces made from fabric but that doesn’t bother me. Look and feel ok so far. I had mismatching laces so this definitely an improvement.

  21. victiminvestahell says:

    if you dismantle the basic parts of those standard Apple earbuds, you are left with a:

    1 big hollow elastic cord(use as shoelace or bracelets and stuff)
    2 smaller hollow elastic cords(same as above)
    1 earbud jack(ghetto phone/ipod silencer)
    1 wire separator thingy(no use yet)
    3 wires with copper and stuff in them (recycle copper)
    2 earbuds(magnets inside)

  22. Ivy says:

    The part that plugs into the ipod can be used as a silencer so that it doesn’t play music at inappropriate times.

  23. Zoe says:

    I’ve never actually tried this so I’m not sure how it works, but I’ve read that if you leave all the remaining pieces together you can make a pretty cool necklace. Now every time my ear buds break, it’s always because the WHOLE ear piece falls off. So if you take it off the other one too (leaving the nub), take the wires that are connected to the bud and cross them loosely behind your neck and drape the buds on your shoulders. Let the plug-in part hang, and i guess if you want you can tape the crossed buds in the back so they stay. I have Sex Pistol earbuds and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

  24. Barbara says:

    found this site that recycles them if you don’t want it anymore :)

  25. Sarah says:

    Send broken headphones to this company:

    CYW by Urbanz
    Suite 1a, Nuffield Road
    PE27 3LX

    They will recycle them for you.

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