Opinion: How sustainable are new trends toward vinyl collecting?

Streaming seems to be the way forward in music consumption; it is cheap, accessible, and instantaneous – three big buzzwords in modern life. In only a few decades, streaming has grown to provide more than 75 per cent of  the US music industry’s revenue per year. We have never had a better or an easier way to listen to music.

So why is there now a resurgence of vinyl collection underway? In comparison to streaming companies such as Spotify and Apple Music, vinyl records seem an entirely impractical and expensive way to listen to music, and yet many seem to stubbornly cling on. Ignoring any implications this may have on some kind of mass societal nostalgia, in today’s world the inescapable question is always going to be what is the environmental impact of this trend?

In terms of sustainability in the music industry, vinyl is unlikely to come out on top. Records are made from a thick PVC that, at the current time, is non-recyclable by the public. While some record companies do melt down and reuse the backstock of their collections, this can only really be done with unused products.

In the last ten years, the re-purposing of vinyl has become increasingly popular when making furniture, decoration and clothing, however these items tend to cater to a specific style, and are usually done on a small scale, so do not have a drastic effect on PVC waste in landfill.

Since there is no all-encompassing way to recycle old vinyl, it would seem that the only practical measure is to make use and re-use the ones we already have. The problem with the current vinyl resurgence is that, from a corporate standpoint, it focuses on the mass production of new vinyl, rather than the buying of older, used records.

So why are people buying new records? Many audiophiles will point to sound quality. However, there is an endless debate as to whether vinyl has a better sound quality in comparison to its many successors.

From a logical view, high resolution digital recordings will sound ‘better’ than analogue vinyl because it will be more accurate, and sound clearer. This being said, we are a stubborn and nostalgic people, and the logical answers are not always the accurate ones.

Vinyl re-releases of classic rock and pop albums are therefore popular because the original versions are rare and tend to be driven up in price. However, current artists also now often release vinyl versions of their own new albums. This has a damaging effect on the environment because it produces waste that is arguably completely needless. In general, modern music is recorded with the intent of being played through streaming, and therefore is not produced with vinyl listeners in mind. Because of this, vinyl editions of modern albums do not add anything to the effect on the listener, because they will not sound the way that the artist originally intended them to.

Sound quality aside, because of its physicality, the production of vinyl adds to landfill and is therefore an unsustainable method of listening to music, especially when streaming is an option.

Streaming music, however, may not be altogether sustainable in itself. In most cases of streaming, the music isn’t downloaded and stored on your device, but rather is kept in a data storage facility. Because of this, there is a consumption energy to keep in mind each time you listen to music in this way.

The music we stream contributes greatly to the carbon emissions of data centres worldwide, which, in total, produces as much CO2 as the airline industry. The best way to combat this is to try and download your music from whichever app you use, so as to limit the negative effects of repeated listening.

In today’s world, vinyl is not a discovery format. You’re unlikely to spend £30 to try out the music of an artist that you’ve never listened to before, when you could do it risk free unlimited times for a fixed price per month. While there is something to be said about supporting an artist you love through physical purchase, think before starting a massive collection.

Sustainability should not be sacrificed for the sake of an Instagram aesthetic, so if you do invest in vinyl, be sure it’s for an artist you love and will truly appreciate more in that format.

Image: Daria Sannikova via Pexels

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