Are Records More Sustainable Than Streaming?

Physical formats could be the most environmentally friendly way to listen to music!

DMS - 03 May 2024
For The Record

As I'm sure many of you will have read recently, vinyl has been scrutinised in the media for its environmental impact. But, is it justified?

Sustainability within the music industry is not talked about enough.

Almost every person on planet Earth, in this day and age, consumes music in some shape or form. Whether this is by attending live concerts, streaming their favourite albums, listening to the radio, or having a vinyl addiction (like we do), those who don't have music in their lives are few and far between.

The reach of the music industry is vast, and its environmental impact should rightly be scrutinised. Following Billie Eilish's interview with Billboard, the spotlight has been shining on vinyl and whether or not it's a sustainable way to consume music.

So, we thought we'd do some digging and see if we could shed any light on how vinyl stacks up against other music formats.

Let's start by talking about the elephant in the room...

As we're sure you all know, vinyl records are made from PVC, which is a rigid plastic. So, with millions of records being pressed every year it's undeniable that records have an ecological impact.

Surely the answer is to stop the PVC production and stick to streaming your favourite tunes?

“One hour of streaming produces about 55 grams of CO2 equivalent—the same amount as charging seven smartphones.” Laura Marks, co-author of the paper 'Streaming Media’s Environmental Impact" (via Brightly).

Records aren't throwaway items, they are kept and cherished for the long term, with the majority being listened to over and over again. As well as not ending up in landfill, like a lot of other PVC packaging does, it also means there is no carbon footprint while they are sitting pretty in your record collection.

Well, this certainly opened our eyes to the shortcomings of having your music streaming all hours of the day & night!

New Statesman data analysis shows the carbon footprint of Spotify streams of Olivia Rodrigo’s hit single 'Drivers License' since January 2021 is greater than flying from London to New York and back 4,000 times.

“There is this association that ‘in the cloud’ means it’s intangible, but there is a carbon footprint when you stream music,” said Sharon George, a senior lecturer in the Department of Environmental Sustainability at Keele University.

"Every stage of music streaming requires energy. Server farms, located all over the world, contain rows and rows of hard drives that store data, such as the contents of music streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. These hard drives require huge amounts of energy to power and to keep cool.

When you stream a song, data is transmitted from a server farm to a more local access network via underground and undersea cables, which also use energy. Once the data is local, it will be cached – kept for a certain amount of time – at a more local server, reducing errors and lags should you want to stream the song again. Once the song reaches your device, it relies on a wi-fi or other internet connection, as well as a charged phone or laptop."

"Listening to an album via a streaming platform for just five hours is equal in terms of carbon to the plastic of a physical CD, the comparative time for a vinyl record is 17 hours."
(via The New Statesman)

Even if these figures are up for debate, it's unquestionable that music streaming has its impact.

So maybe, just maybe, if you listen to your favourite albums on repeat as we do, those beloved vinyl records of ours are the most ecological way for us to consume our desert island discs.

"It seems that whatever the format, owning physical copies of our favourite and most treasured music, might just be the best option for our environment."
(via The Conversation)

Don't forget, you can make a further difference by using GreenPower Bio-Attributed Compound and Eco-Friendly Bio-Wrap!!

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