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Why This Company Wants To Recycle Instrument Strings Across the Globe 

Since the 1970s, D’Addario has manufactured strings for guitars, orchestral instruments and more with an eye on the future — but back then, no one at the Farmingdale, N.Y.-based company could have expected that future to involve smelting metal strings.

After decades of prioritizing music education for children through its D’Addario Foundation, particularly in underserved communities, the company launched Playback in 2015, which prioritizes sustainability. The program repurposes used guitar and orchestral strings in partnership with recycling company TerraCycle. Metal strings are smelted into new alloys, while nylon strings are recycled for industrial plastic applications — keeping both out of landfills, where over 1.5 million pounds of strings accumulate every year, according to Playback. To participate, individuals can place strings into bins at one of the nearly 1,200 collection locations across the country, including hundreds of Guitar Centers and independent retailers, or mail them on their own, so long as shipments exceed 5 pounds, to minimize waste. (D’Addario provides prepaid UPS shipping labels for such donators.)

To date, almost 13 million strings have been recycled through Playback. Acts such as U2, My Morning Jacket and Young the Giant have drawn attention to the initiative, with the lattermost donating a percentage of every ticket sold from its 2023 summer tour to the D’Addario Foundation. Additionally, the company has partnered with competitors, and its site provides links to international string recycling organizations in France and Slovakia, too. “We want to do what’s good for the whole industry,” says Brian Vance, D’Addario vp of fretted strings and accessories.

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In 2022, D’Addario instituted World String Change Day to heighten interest in the program. The idea encourages consumers to try new strings and other accessories, often through deals. It will return for its third year on June 6. “At that moment you’re taking your strings off, it goes right into the Playback bin,” chief marketing officer Jonathan Turitz says. The D’Addario Foundation has also led drives for those looking to donate used instruments, many of which end up in the hands of in-need students. The practice of repairing used instruments for kids was highlighted in the recent Academy Award-winning documentary The Last Repair Shop. “That film is exactly the story of what we’re doing,” Turitz says, “whether it’s the people in the shop or the kids.”

Playback aims to expand globally in the coming years, though logistical issues and costs stand in the way. “The recycling laws, methodologies and practices in Europe are much different than they are in the U.S.,” Vance says, although later this year, D’Addario hopes to conduct testing on scaling the program abroad. And despite the rising costs that come with the program’s success, D’Addario’s ultimate mission remains at the forefront. “We’re facing an existential crisis,” Turitz says. “It’s vital that we put the planet above profit.”

This story originally appeared in the March 30, 2024, issue of Billboard.