Music Industry

Published on April 8th, 2019 | by Alan Cross


More proof that streaming music is worse for the planet than CDs and vinyl records

Which has a more harmful carbon footprint: (a) CDs and vinyl with their non-biodegradable plastic or (b) the zeros and ones of an invisible digital music file?

A gold star to everyone who chose (b). The amount of energy required to create, store, and transmit digital files has a bigger effect on the environment than old-school physical media.

According to data supplied by The Conversation, the recorded music industry in America used 61 million kg of plastic at its peak in 2000 resulting in 157 million kg of green house gases. But after the switch to digital files, that number has included to somewhere north of 200 million kg. Just in America.

I love this graphic that illustrates the cost of music.

Matt Brennan/Kyle Devine

Read everything here.

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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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3 Responses to More proof that streaming music is worse for the planet than CDs and vinyl records

  1. Szabó F-erenc says:

    This is a profoundly flawed article. If one is going to factor in the “travel” of the music to the listener [ie.. the streaming/downloading], then one has to also consider the travel of a buyer to/from a record store, the travel of the products from the manufacturing plant to the record store, the physical buildings themselves (and all their carbon footprint data), and the travel to/from these buildings of all the employees. Also, it doesn’t consider the fact that a multi-use device (like a computer or phone) can’t directly compare to a dedicated music player (vinyl, CD etc…), precisely BECAUSE it is multi-use.

  2. Matt says:

    This is an interesting issue and definitely worth thinking about and discussing. The devil is always in the details though. Even the article itself admits it’s not the last word on the matter and that we can probably never truly compare formats because we simply don’t have the information we’d need. And even if we could, greenhouses gasses is just one metric. What about the environmental cost of disposing of CDs, vinyls and cassettes? Not everything used ends up in a record shop. Some of them just end up in a dump.

    So I think declaring that streaming is “worse” for the planet is a bit premature. We’ll probably never know which is truly worse. We may never even be able to decide what exactly “worse” means. But definitely worth remembering that just because digital files aren’t real doesn’t mean they don’t have real environmental impact.

  3. Lisa says:

    as the above responder stated one needs to factor in the environmental cost of transporting physical music. In places like ontario fossil fuels are just a minute part of creating electricity with most coming from renewable and nuclear power.

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