Analysis of the impact of musical media on the environment: digital music, analog recordings and CDs
Our favorite way to listen to music is probably harder on the environment than we imagined.
Although streaming music remains in first place in the list of popular listening methods, sales of such old formats as audio tapes and vinyl records have been growing recently. Vinyl generally shows a staggering 1427% increase in sales since 2007 - in 2018 alone, 4 million LPs were sold in Britain . And since in the near future, the popularity of vinyl is not going to fade, it means that even more discs will be released, the processing of which is impossible - and this may adversely affect the environment.
If album covers are usually made from recycled cardboard , the plates themselves were originally made from shellac , and then it was replaced with vinyl, which was unsuitable for recycling . Shellac is a natural gum excreted by female insect worms of the family Kerriidae, parasitizing on some tropical and subtropical trees in India and countries of Southeast Asia. She was collected from trees and made gramophone records from her. Since shellac was made from non- fossil raw materials (as opposed to a substance such as ethylene used to make plastic), its carbon footprint was less than that of modern records.
Shellac plates were fragile and damaged from contact with water and alcohol, so PVC plates were developed to increase the shelf life of records. Under ideal conditions, without movement and in the absence of oxygen, PVC emitted can decompose for centuries. However, the conditions of most landfills (with different soil acidity and temperature) can lead to plasticizer leakage (compounds added to plastic, making it more flexible and durable). They can even survive the landfill itself or get into the environment, polluting it.
Modern plates usually contain about 135 grams of PVC, whose carbon footprint is 0.5 kg of CO 2 (calculation based on the fact that there are 3.4 kg of CO per 1 kg of PVC2 from layered polycarbonates and aluminum; they leave a slightly smaller carbon footprint and use less materials. However, CDs cannot be recycled, as they are made from a mixture of materials, and it is expensive and uneconomical to separate them into components. CDs were also sold in fragile polycarbonate boxes, which were also rarely processed, despite the fact that they consisted of a single type of material. Nor are they as strong as some thought.). Sales of 4.1 million records give 1.9 thousand tons of CO 2 - even without taking into account transportation and packaging. Such a carbon footprint leaves slightly less than 400 people per year .
In the 80s records were replaced by compact discs that promised reliability and better sound quality. The CDs were made , so many of them also ended up in landfills.
In the process of the emergence of new music formats for many years - albums, tapes, CDs, streaming music - went through cycles of ejection and destruction, when old technologies were replaced with new ones. However, we did not choose the CD intentionally - it was just the company that produced them . And if high-quality CDs in ideal conditions can live for 50-100 years, many low-quality CDseasily damaged by the action of sunlight and heat, they are warped by rapid changes in temperature, gravity, damage to scratches, fingerprints and dirt - and as a result they are thrown out.
Modern digital technologies give us the perfect quality of music without any physical wear. Music is easy to copy and download, you can listen to it online without downloading . And, since digital music is less substantial than vinyl and CD, it probably should be more environmentally friendly, isn't it?
Streaming music may be the least environmentally friendly
Although new formats do not carry material, this does not mean that they do not affect the environment. The files that we download are stored on working servers that need cooling. This information is read and transmitted over the network to the router, which transmits it via WiFi to our electronic devices. Every time we listen to a song, waste energy. . If we bought a vinyl record, we can listen to it as many times as necessary, and the only carbon track will be left only by the player. However, if we listen to streaming music through the hifi system, then we spend about 107 kWh per year and it costs £ 15. The CD player spends 34.7 kWh per year and costs £ 5 [if you count the cost of electricity at a single tariff in Moscow for 2018, the numbers will be 576 and 187 ₽ respectively / approx. trans.].
Which option is more environmentally friendly? It depends on many factors, in particular, on the frequency of listening to music. If you listen to one track a couple of times, then streaming is better. If you listen to the tracks all the time, then a physical copy is best.; listening to an album over the Internet will spend more than 27 times more energy than is spent on producing a single CD.
So, if you want to reduce your environmental impact, vintage vinyl records can be a great option. As for online music, its local storage on phones, computers or servers of a local network will help bring data closer to the user and reduce the need for streaming from remote servers over networks that consume a lot of energy.
In our world, where more and more of the economy and social interactions occur online, records and other vintage music formats are opposed to this trend. The revival of records demonstrates that we want more materiality from our carriers, sense of valueand long-term carrier life with proper care. The old music formats have a sense of importance and consistency, they belong to us in a way that virtual purchases cannot do.
Apparently, regardless of the format, owning copies of our favorite music and playing them again and again is likely to be the best option for our environment.