As the vinyl resurgence continues, the environmental impact of producing new vinyl records is becoming more of a discussion that people are asking.
What are vinyl records made of?
Vinyl records are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), they are a form of plastic and therefore aren’t great at breaking down or being particularly friendly often being quite difficult to recycle.
The C in PVC stands for chloride (from chlorine) which is quite a toxic chemical and challenging to handle – This is part of the reason why recycling professionals don’t like to deal with PVC and it tends to end up in landfill or incineration.
How many vinyl records are made a year?
The global pressing capabilities of vinyl records mean that 180 million can be produced in a year. When looking at the number of years vinyl records have been sold for, that’s in the billions when it comes to vinyl records currently circulating worldwide.
Vinyl record production vs streaming music – Emission release
You may think that streaming music is environmentally friendly as you don’t have anything physical. But to access millions and millions of tracks online at the drop of a hat times the billions of streamers you have in the world, uses heaps of energy. It’s estimated that 350m kilos of emissions are used for streaming in the US alone which is over double of the emissions used at the height of vinyl production.
You’ll also use a vinyl record multiple times where as the equipment used to stream is constantly being updated and changed over the years impacting the environment even more.
What can the vinyl record industry do to protect the environment?
Artists and pressing companies have been working together to look at alternatives for PVC.
In 2019, singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey achieved a world first by releasing “ocean vinyl”. This was made using Anthropocene which was produced from recycled plastics found in the ocean of the South of the UK.
As the vinyl resurgence continues we expect to see more producers looking at ways of re-using old vinyl records materials as well as looking at environmentally friendly options.
What can you do to help the environment when collecting vinyl?
Everyone can do their part when helping the environment. A few ways we can all do this is:
- Don’t throw vinyl records away. They will nearly always go into landfill and not break down. It’s best to give to charity, sell, or give away
- Look for environmentally friendly options – They are starting to come around. They will be more expensive, to begin with, but the more consumers buy these versions the cheaper they get as well as the more people who actively switch to them
- Buy second-hand. If vinyl records are looked after they are always good to buy secondhand. This creates a more sustainable environment and means we’re not constantly creating new items.
- Use your voice. The vinyl industry is quite open and active – If you regularly buy from a store in person or online, ask if they are looking at more sustainable options. Change happens when more people talk about it.
How long does it take vinyl to decompose?
Due to the material used to make vinyl records they don’t break down. Left in normal conditions a vinyl record could take 1000 years or more to decompose.
Is Melting vinyl records toxic?
You may be looking to repurpose your vinyl which is damaged and no longer can be played. If doing this you should know that heating / melting vinyl can release toxic carcinogenic fumes such as phthalates and dioxins.
We don’t encourage the melting of vinyl records in the home. If you are to do it make sure you are outside and wearing protective gear.
Summary: Are vinyl records bad for the environment?
Vinyl records aren’t currently sustainable. The materials used don’t break down and are toxic if incinerated.
The environmental impact of vinyl record production is still quite small even with the resurgence. Generally, vinyl collectors will keep their collection, hand it down, reuse it, or buy it second-hand or sell it. So vinyl records are not often just thrown away.
Streaming music does have a bigger footprint due to access and global adoption.
Where possible do your bit and seek out more environmentally friendly options – These will become more popular over the years, and every little helps the environment.