Floppy disks have a long history dating back to the late 1960s when IBM introduced the first 8-inch floppy disk. Over the years, floppy disks evolved in size from 8-inch to 5.25-inch to finally the more compact 3.5-inch disks that became ubiquitous in the 1980s and 90s (https://history-computer.com/floppy-disk/). Many people may still have boxes of old 3.5-inch floppy disks sitting around that contain personal files, software, photos, and more.
While floppy disks are now obsolete technology, those old disks still contain data that may have sentimental or functional value. This article provides an overview of different options for what you can do with old floppy disks. We’ll cover ways to access the data on the disks, repurpose or reuse the disks, recycle the materials, donate to collectors and more. With so many disks out there, it’s important to understand the range of possibilities before deciding how best to handle old floppy disks.
Read the Data
To access data on old floppy disks, you will likely need a USB floppy drive since most modern computers do not have built-in floppy drives. USB floppy disk drives are widely available from electronics retailers for around $10-20.
Once you have a USB floppy drive, connect it to your computer and insert the floppy disk. Then you can access the contents of the disk by browsing to the floppy drive in your file explorer, just like you would access files on a USB stick or external hard drive.
Some older floppy disk formats like 5.25″ disks may require special drives to read, so you’ll want to verify your disk size before purchasing a USB drive. Software utilities like Data Recovery Masters also offer disk copying services to retrieve data from vintage floppy disks.
In addition to basic file copying, floppy disk reading utilities like Digital Fdisk can thoroughly scan disks to recover corrupted or deleted files. Take care not to overwrite the original floppy when copying data off.
With the proper USB floppy drive and data recovery software, you can access old floppy disks on a modern Windows, Mac, or Linux computer. Handle disks carefully and be prepared for read errors on older media.
Transfer the Files
One of the most common things to do with old floppy disks is to transfer the files off of them and onto a modern computer or storage device. This allows you to access old files and convert them to more usable formats.
To transfer files from floppy disks, you will need a computer with a floppy disk drive. If your current computer does not have one, you can purchase an external USB floppy disk drive. Once connected, the computer should recognize and read the floppy disk.
Navigate to the floppy disk through your file explorer and copy all files and folders off of it and onto your computer’s hard drive or a USB flash drive. Be sure to organize the files in a way that makes sense to you.
Many files saved on floppy disks use outdated formats. You may need to convert word processing documents, spreadsheets, or other files into modern formats using compatible software. For example, you could convert old Microsoft Word documents to .docx files that can be opened with current versions of Word.
Image and video files may also need to be converted to JPEG, PNG, or other standard modern formats. Take care to not lose quality or data when converting old file formats.
Once you’ve secured the files from your floppy disks, you can delete them from the floppies or reuse the disks for other purposes.
Reuse the Disks
One of the most popular ways to reuse old floppy disks is through arts, crafts, and DIY projects. The disks themselves can be repurposed into a variety of fun and functional items.
For example, floppy disks can be turned into pencil holders. Simply stack disks on top of each other and secure them with glue or other adhesives. You can decorate the pencil holder with paint, stickers, ribbon, and other embellishments.
Floppy disks can also be made into jewelry like necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Holes can be punched into the disks to string them onto chains or leather cords. The disks can even be cut into interesting shapes before assembling into jewelry.
Those with sewing skills could upcycle floppy disks into clothing items. The disks can become buttons, brooches, embellishments, or even fabric itself by sewing them together. Allow your creativity to determine what kinds of wearable art you can make with the disks.
In terms of home decor, old floppy disks can become placemats, coasters, wall art, wreaths, mobiles, and more. With some strategic gluing, attaching, and decorating, the possibilities for repurposing floppy disks are nearly endless.
Recycle the Plastic
While floppy disks themselves are rarely accepted for recycling, their plastic shells can often be recycled. The black plastic casing that houses the magnetic disk can be popped open, allowing you to separate the materials. Once open, remove the metal hub ring and magnetic disk, disposing of them properly. The plastic shell that remains can then go into a plastic recycling bin (though check with your local facility first). According to Ecolife, floppy disk plastic is usually made from ABS or PVC, which are commonly recycled plastics.
Some plastic recycling centers like Best Buy also accept hard drive platters, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, audio and video cassettes, floppy disks, and diskettes for recycling. Just be sure to remove any metal components first. Call ahead to recycling centers and electronics recyclers in your area to ask if they accept floppy disk plastic casings.
Donate to Collectors
Old floppy disks may be of interest to computer history organizations or collectors of vintage technology and media. Consider donating your floppy disks to the following organizations and collectors:
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California accepts donations of floppy disks and other historical computer media for its archives. Their collection documents the evolution of computing and computer storage media over decades.
The Living Computers: Museum + Labs in Seattle, Washington is dedicated to showcasing historic computers and media. They accept donations of floppy disks and other obsolete media for exhibit.
The Vintage Computer Federation has members and clubs across the US who collect and exhibit old computers and media. You may be able to donate floppy disks to a local collector through them.
Before donating, be sure to wipe any sensitive data from the floppy disks. Then your old disks can safely become part of preserving computing history.
Destroy Sensitive Data
If your old floppy disks contain sensitive personal data or classified information, it’s crucial to securely destroy the disks to prevent data leaks. There are a couple effective methods for physically destroying floppy disks:
You can manually destroy disks by cutting or snapping them, piercing holes through them with nails or drills, or smashing them with a hammer. According to NWITimes.com, these physical destruction techniques can effectively destroy data beyond recovery.
For quick and thorough disk destruction, consider using a degausser. Degaussers apply powerful magnetic fields that erase all data stored on magnetic media like floppy disks. As noted by ItStillWorks, commercial degaussers can wipe multiple floppy disks simultaneously in just seconds.
By physically destroying disks or degaussing them, you can ensure sensitive data on old floppies has been completely eliminated before disposal.
Sell to Collectors
Many collectors are interested in old floppy disks, especially rare or historically significant disks. Popular online marketplaces for selling vintage tech include eBay and Etsy. According to this article, some of the most valuable floppy disks include early Apple floppies, retro video game disks like Oregon Trail, and disks signed by technology pioneers like Steve Jobs. Rare promotional disks released at tech conferences and disks containing early versions of popular software can also fetch high prices from collectors. When listing disks for sale, provide clear photos and descriptions of the exact items so collectors can assess their condition and rarity.
When getting rid of old floppy disks, it’s important to dispose of them responsibly to avoid contaminating the environment. Floppies contain materials like plastic and metal that can be harmful if released into the environment improperly.
Follow local and national e-waste recycling guidelines when disposing of floppies. Many municipalities have special programs for handling electronics waste and floppy disks may qualify. You can also look for reputable electronics recycling companies that will properly dismantle and dispose of the components.
Avoid simply throwing floppies in the trash, as they may end up in landfills where toxic materials can leach into groundwater. Incineration is also not recommended as it could release harmful fumes. The goal is to keep the materials contained until they can be properly recycled.
With some care taken in disposal, those old floppies don’t have to become an environmental problem. Handled correctly, their materials can be recovered and put to good use.
Old floppy disks are no longer commonly used, but they still offer some valuable options with a bit of effort. The most common use is to read any old files still stored on them and transfer the data to a more modern medium. Floppies can also potentially be reused by re-formatting, allowing you to store new files on them. Creative crafters may find ways to repurpose the plastic and metal housing of floppies into art projects or novelty items. If the disks contain sensitive information, you’ll want to destroy them to protect your data. Selling or donating disks to collectors can find new homes for floppies while making a bit of cash. And of course, responsible recycling and disposal is always an option to keep the materials out of landfills.
For most people with a few old floppies, the best option is likely to try reading any remaining data for backup before reusing, repurposing or responsibly recycling the disks. Businesses and organizations with large archives of floppy disks may want to consider bulk selling or donating to collectors to clear storage space. And anyone with sensitive data should destroy disks to protect confidential information if they cannot be reused.