What’s Worse for the Environment: CDs or Streaming Music?

10 Dec 2014

CDs have been vilified for being an environmental hazard from the moment they were introduced. 

Critics pointed to their composition (non-biodegradable plastic and aluminum), the plastic jewel cases, the wasteful packaging (remember the longbox?), the inks used in printing the booklets and the shrinkwrap.

Then there’s the energy that goes into producing the discs, plus the carbon emissions created by transporting and warehousing the discs.

And let’s not forget that CDs are sold in stores with their own energy issues, not to mention the fact that we have to consume energy (and thereby emit pollution) by traveling to the stores to purchase our music.

Many of these issues were addressed.  The longbox was killed.  Packaging moved from plastic to paper. And the inks for the booklet were changed to those smelly vegetable-based variants.  And knowing that you can’t have CDs without plastic, some bands started to plant trees (or at least contribute to tree-planting) to offset the impact of CD production and the plastic issues.

Bottom line, though, is that CDs appear to be bad for the planet.  That’s why some people are into streaming.  How can getting a music file streamed to your device possibly be as bad as the enviromental damage caused by CDs and vinyl?

Streaming isn’t as bad.  By many standards, it’s worse.

The problem is the massive, power-sucking infrastructure required for streaming.  Think of all those data centers and all the energy they consume.  Think about the resources that goes into creating all those servers and fiber cables.

According to one study, streaming or downloading 12 songs just 27 times by one user is the equivalent to the production and shipping of one 12-track CD.  Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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