Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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Sustainable Music Series: The Carbon Culprits – Physical Formats

So, it’s about time we took a look at how we consume our music. 

By this point, it likely comes as no surprise that physical formats pose a detrimental impact on the environment. Yet, there has been an exponential growth in popularity for physical formats. Vinyl and cassettes have seen quite a revival in recent years with vinyl seeing a remarkable 1,427% increase in sales between 2007 and 2018. Last year, 4.8 million vinyl records were sold in the UK alone – obviously, a few people got into vinyl collecting during lockdown. 

Let’s be honest here, we all love a physical format, especially if you are from an era before the digital revolution. There is something about holding a tangible product that you spent your hard-earned cash on (or your parents’ hard-earned cash) that is so much more satisfying than a digital product. When it comes to recorded music it’s more than that though. It’s the whole experience, from your favourite band announcing their new album, to eagerly awaiting the release date, going to the record store, flicking through the records, trolling the CD rack, giving it a test run in-store, and taking it home to play on repeat for weeks before filing it its appropriate category within your personal collection to be called upon when the mood takes you. For some it’s the scratch of the vinyl, for others it’s the artwork and extensive sleeve notes, and for some, it’s just the retro aesthetic and nostalgia of the “golden era” of recorded music that draws them to physical formats, but before you rush out to buy a reissued vinyl or a limited run of cassettes, it’s important that you understand the carbon cost of that purchase. 

Although the earliest vinyl records were made from shellac (a natural resin with a lower carbon footprint), modern vinyl is made predominantly from PVC which is a fossil fuel-derived plastic made from the byproducts and waste generated from refining oil. It is estimated that discarded PVC can take centuries to decompose in a landfill site, all the while seeping toxic pollutants into the soil that can also escape into the environment. 

BBC Future reported that the average modern record contains “around 135g of PVC material with a carbon footprint of 0.5kg of carbon dioxide(based on 3.4kg of COâ‚‚ per 1kg of PVC). Sales of 4.1m records would produce 1.9 thousand tonnes of COâ‚‚ – not taking transport and packaging into account. That is the entire carbon footprint of almost 400 people per year.”

On top of all of that, PVC is a non-recyclable material.

As for CDs, they generate a lower carbon footprint as they are made from a mixture of polycarbonates and aluminum, and the fact that they are made with less material than records. However, due to the mixture of materials used to make CDs, it is difficult and uneconomical to separate the materials for recycling, so again they often end up in piles of unnatural waste clogging up landfill sites across the globe.

So, if you are someone who has gotten into collecting vinyl of late, perhaps it’s time to get into the vintage market. Buying physical formats that have already been made decades ago is the closest thing you will get to recycling when it comes to physical music. Purchasing newly produced physical formats only generates a demand that the industry will supply and thus the cycle continues.

Words by Darren Hay

Posted On 3 October, 2022