With streaming music comes unexpected environmental pitfalls



Although the new music streaming services produce less plastic, greenhouses gases are produced to such an extent that it causes discussions on the whether there is still hope for other music listening materials. https://unsplash.com/license

Keira MacDermott

Rather than loading up on plastic and vinyl records only to use them once in a while, most people have made the choice to have constant access to their favorite songs. However, recent studies suggest that streaming music may be more dangerous to the environment than using CDs and records.

Kyle Devine, the author of “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” a book that focuses on the evolution from physical to invisible listening materials, worries that “the environmental cost of music is now greater than at any time during recorded music’s previous eras.”

Although the music industry had reduced its use of plastic by almost 86%, shrinking the recorded amount of 58 million in 1977 to 8 million in 2016, the harms of online streaming are becoming more apparent. In his book, Devine notes that 2016, online streaming produced an estimated 200 to 350 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the recorded amount produced by all forms of listening utilized in the year 2000. Streaming platforms today are associated with energy use and carbon emissions from devices and data centers, therefore resulting in the sudden spike in greenhouse gases.

The effects of greenhouse gases are many, endangering everything on Earth from the atmosphere to the health of each and every human. Many are aware and fearful of the word, but few know the harm that these gases cause. Greenhouse gases trap heat and smog caused by air pollution in the atmosphere resulting in contaminated air and respiratory disease, while plastic pollution endangers the lives of marine and terrestrial life.

Though iPhones have taken over the world in the past decade, there may be hope for the seemingly obsolete CD. Key Production, a company dedicated to resurrecting physical music products, is relying on the sentimental value of album collecting as well as facts to keep their business and the environment afloat.

Founder Karen Emanuel argues that “not all plastic is bad plastic” and defends the single-use plastic wrap found on vinyl records. She argues that it maintains the product’s shelf life, and therefore reduces plastic waste. In other words, it is a small price to pay. Emanuel also maintains that many fans appreciate the design and aesthetic of vinyl records, and she is seemingly correct. In 2020, an estimated 27.5 million vinyl records were sold in the United States alone, having increased 46% compared to the previous year according to Statista.com.

It comes down to personal preference, and the argument over which form of listening is more environmentally conscious is not yet resolved, but it seems as though music listeners will find themselves having to choose between the lesser of two evils.