jewel box picture frames

A picture of Melly in a pretentious frame from MOMA.  Small, expensive, and without any glass or plastic to protect the picture itself. The same photo after scanning, digital resizing, and enclosure in a freely-available CD jewel box from the trash.

The following list of defects in CD packaging design was partially drawn from Tibor and Lulu Kalman's article "How to Open a CD Box" in the 12.13.1998 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

  1. The plastic wrap is difficult to open. A special tool has been made and marketed especially for the purpose.
  2. The sticker that seals the CD case has an integral pull tab that always tears the sticker when you pull it. What's more, this sticker serves no useful purpose, as it is quite easy to remove the CD without damaging the sticker by dismantling the case.
  3. The plastic case itself is grossly space-inefficient. Only 50 of them will fit into a foot of shelf space, whereas the same amount of space can be made to hold 200 CDs in cardboard sleeves.
  4. The integral plastic retaining clips that hold the CD in the case are fragile and break off easily.
  5. The list of song tracks is rarely if ever printed on the CD itself. To get it, you have to look on the back of the case or, often, on the inside of the liner notes, which are difficult to remove and even more difficult to replace in the (again, easily-broken) plastic clips inside the front cover.
  6. The jewel boxes are slippery and are thus difficult to stack and/or carry in number.
  7. The plastic is fragile and breaks easily when dropped.
  8. The plastic is nonrecyclable.

Because jewel boxes are such a pain in the ass, most people I know with large CD collections have bought some kind of after-market storage system which allows them either to dispose of their jewel boxes altogether, or to keep them in a box in the closet awaiting the day when they decide to sell their discs. I use a special detachable- binding plastic sleeve system I bought from Levenger, Inc. for $80, but if I had it to do over again, I'd do what my girlfriend Melody does--keep them in 3-ring binders using the inexpensive vinyl sleeves sold by office supply stores for filing CD-ROMS. Both she and I have taken literally hundreds of jewel boxes to the dumpster. I tried recycling mine, at first, and found that they couldn't be recycled. Then I tried giving them to a used-CD store, but they didn't want them because they already had so many extra on-hand. Finally I gave up and just threw them away. I keep 5 or so on hand in case I decide to sell more discs than I buy, but I've never had to use them.

Two photos displayed in jewel box frames, showing the use of the partially-open lid to
prop up the picture in either the horizontal or the vertical position.

Reusing jewel boxes as picture frames is the most effective way I've found of recycling them. The primary function of a jewel box, after all, is to prettily display the packaging in-store. Appropriating them to display your own images is nicely subversive. Jewel boxes are cheaply (often, freely) available, and can be easily replaced if damaged. What's more, the lid of the jewel box can be partially opened to prop up and display the picture either horizontally or vertically.

To fit into a jewel case exactly, a picture should be resized to 137 x 117mm.



I have heard, but not verified, that used jewel boxes can be recycled by mailing to:

Plastic Recycling Inc
2015 South Pennsylvania
Indianapolis, IN 46225

Although direct recycling (reusing, really) is preferable in terms of energy conservation to materials recycling, a person can only stand to have so many picture frames. If anybody can verify this company and/or this address as a secondary option, I'd love to hear from you.