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Vinyl vs The Climate Crisis

Updated: Nov 25, 2021



The world’s leaders are currently gathered in Glasgow for COP26 - a UN conference

hosted with the intention of putting together action plans that will help ease the ever-

looming climate crisis. Events such as these cause everyone, from all industries, to

look at their methods and ask themselves how they could be more sustainable. For

the vinyl industry, this concern has never been more relevant.


It’s fantastic to see that in the past decade, there has been a huge surge in demand

for vinyl. The once outdated format is now a booming success, with new artists

opting to release their music on vinyl as opposed to more modern formats such as

CDs. In the grand scheme of things, there are many ways the industry gets it right.

Some vinyl-lovers prefer to buy second-hand copies rather than re-runs. Others see

their collections as hugely sentimental, therefore few end up in landfill.


However we choose to listen to music, there are always going to be problems that

arise relating to climate change. CDs are mass produced and contain large amounts

of non-recyclable plastic. Similarly, the act of streaming music consumes energy,

and this method often means that artists don’t receive the royalties and support they

deserve.


Out of all the ways we could listen to music, there’s something truly unique about

vinyl. It provides a real sense of nostalgia. As soon as the needles lands, you’re hit

with the classic crackle of surface noise which has the power to transport you to any

era. For many, a vinyl collection is like a trophy case that only gets more special with

time. If it wasn’t so iconic, we wouldn’t have the resurgence we’re seeing today.

The worry is that when we produce a physical form of music, concerns arise about

its impact on the environment. Though technology may have progressed, the

methods used to produce physical music is now seen as outdated.

How is this the case with vinyl records?


Firstly, a vinyl record is made of PVC – a raw material created by using fossil fuels

such as gas and oil [1] . There’s the belief that the heavier the vinyl, the better the

quality, therefore most records weigh in at 180g [2] . It can be challenging to produce a

lighter vinyl without hindering the quality of the sound. Likewise, to use a recycled

material can often make the vinyl weaker, and less resilient. The industry recognised

this and has consequently begun experimenting with different materials. An example

of this work can be seen through the initiative ‘ocean vinyl’.


Ocean vinyl began as an experiment in the south of England. It involved combing the

southern shores for discarded plastic items that could then be melted together to

produce an eco-friendly vinyl. In 2019, Nick Mulvey released his single ‘The

Anthropocene’ on this prototype, which was cut by Wesley Wolfe from the company

Tangible Records. Within an article for the BBC, Wolfe states that although the

records ‘look and sound beautiful’, this method of manufacturing was ‘a long and

laborious process’ [4] . With the level of sifting and cleaning needed to get the plastic

ready for pressing, he explains that ‘mass production using recycled plastics is some

way off’ [4] . One grain of sand or rogue hair can completely overthrow the playback of

a record, but it’s great to see these experiments being done with the hope that we

may eventually be able to produce vinyl using recycled materials.


Another issue is that the amount of pollution produced from pressing plants can also

be seen as damaging to the environment. Vinyls are created by using steam to melt

PVC ‘pucks’ that are then pressed into shape. Few companies currently use

renewable energy sources to generate this steam, therefore fossil fuels again come

into play.


Deepgroves, a Netherlands based company, claim to be ‘the greenest vinyl

pressing plant on this planet’. Their goal is to be ‘as green as possible’, but how do

they achieve this? Deepgroves use calcium zinc to create their records which is

considerably less toxic than the classic heavy metal stabilisers used in usual

production. All their machines are powered by green energy, green gas or solar

energy, and they specifically use local suppliers.


Like all global shipping companies, packaging and transportation can also be

concerning. Deepgroves combat this worry as their packaging and design work is

made from recycled (and recyclable) cardboard, and their ink is both vegan and eco-

friendly. The shrink-wrap they use to transport their goods is 100% recyclable and

biodegradable, as it’s made from 50% sugarcane. Read more about the way this

company is actively becoming more sustainable here:

https://deepgrooves.eu/ecofriendlyvinyl/


The final company we wanted to shine a light on is Green Vinyl Records - a Dutch

based initiative made up of eight companies, each with the shared vision of creating

a greener future with great sounding vinyl. This company have managed to create a

manufacturing process that uses 60% less energy than previous methods. Within

their test lab, they trial the use of alternative plastics and materials, whilst also

redeveloping the way in which vinyl is moulded and injected. They share their

findings in hope that one day we will be able to enjoy this iconic format in a more

sustainable fashion. (Read more about this company here:

www.greenvinylrecords.com)


It’s reassuring to know that new ideas are being explored every day, proving that the

industry is rising to meet the demands of the climate crisis. It’s great that vinyl has

become so iconic again, but, like all other areas of life, it’s crucial that it doesn’t

come at the cost of the planet.


Have you seen or heard of any ways the industry is going greener? Let us know in

the comments below!


[1] - https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2019/03/dark-side-of-the-vinyl-are-

records-bad-for-the-environment/

[2] - https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jan/28/vinyl-record-revival-

environmental-impact-music-industry-streaming


[3] - https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/how-the-record-industry-is-trying-to-make-vinyl-

more-environmentally-friendly/

[4] - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-57572663


Written for The Turntable by Hannah Robinson-Wright. Hannah is a 24-year-old aspiring author and poet from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. After achieving a first-class degree in English Literature, she is now completing a Masters at the Manchester Writing School and spends her free time exploring Huddersfield's idyllic countryside, maintaining a vegan food blog and performing around the UK with various musical projects.

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