Is buying vinyl bad for the planet – and what can be done about it?

Instead of making boards from regular PVC pellets, in recent years it has become possible to use renewable sources such as cooking oil or wood pulp. According to artists like Enter Shikari, this is the way forward.

By means of Katie Spencer, arts and entertainment correspondent @SkyKatieSpencer

Sunday May 19, 2024 03:38, UK

Taylor Swift’s new album has contributed to the highest weekly vinyl sales in 30 years – but is our newfound love for owning records environmentally reckless?

PVC (polyvinyl chloride), the plastic from which sheets are traditionally made, is not good for the planet, and concerns have also been raised about the packaging because vinyl turnover has increased in recent years.

Rou Reynolds, frontman of chart-topping rock band Enter Shikari, believes leading artists need to take some responsibility to ‘drive change forward’.

“The bigger you are as an artist, the more influence you have, the more you can move things forward and accelerate progress,” he says.

Taylor Swift’s Tortured Poets Society is leading the vinyl boom. Photo: Beth Garrabrant

In an interview with Billboard in March, Billie Eilish criticized how “wasteful it is” when “some of the biggest artists in the world” make “40 different vinyl packages,” each with “a different unique thing, just to get you to to keep buying. more”.

“It’s a reasonable criticism,” says Reynolds, “but I think it will basically disappear once it becomes the standard to use BioVinyl, for example – that will really remove the possibility of criticism.”

Instead of making boards from regular PVC pellets, in recent years it has become possible to use renewable sources such as cooking oil or wood pulp.

Shikari’s Rou Reynolds, pictured on stage in 2023, says artists must take the lead. Photo: Graham Finney/Cover images via AP

“Traditional vinyl is an oil-based product,” Reynolds explains. “No one really wants to support the extraction of more fossil fuels.”

Shikari now insists that all their records be made with BioVinyl, and Reynolds is optimistic that as more artists make demands about the materials their records are made from, this would become the new norm.

“A lot of independent artists, like me, can light this fire, then it spreads and before you know it it becomes the industry standard.”

‘The progress is incredible’

Karen Emanuel, CEO of Key Production Group, has been in the industry for 35 years

Leading voices in vinyl production want the music industry to listen.

“Together with the Vinyl Alliance and the Vinyl Records Manufacturers Association, we are looking at the entire production chain,” says Karen Emanuel, CEO of Key Production, Britain’s largest broker for physical music production.

“I’ve been in the industry for probably about 35 years and the progress that has been made is incredible. Many of the big plastic companies have found a way for PVC to replace the fossil fuel elements [which] can reduce the carbon footprint of vinyl by as much as 90%.”

The catch right now is the cost.

“It’s a little bit more expensive to produce, but if enough people produce it, the price will come down… it’s something we’re really trying to push people towards.”

Would fans be happy to pay more for a greener product?

Lee Jeffries, of Sonic Wax, in Leicestershire, owns the most expensive Motown record in the world. Image: Sonic Wax

Lee Jefferies, the owner of Leicestershire-based vinyl pressing factory Sonic Wax Pressing, is such a big vinyl lover that he spent £100,000 buying the world’s most valuable Motown record.

“At the end of the day, everything works from a retail perspective,” he says. “And because retail prices for vinyl are already quite high, it’s very difficult for people to have the extra money to buy biodegradable vinyl.”

But a recent survey by Key Production found that more than two-thirds (69%) of vinyl buyers said they would be encouraged to buy more if the records were made with a reduced impact on the environment.

The findings also showed that the vast majority, 77%, of regular vinyl customers are willing to pay a premium for lower impact products, indicating significant market demand for environmentally friendly alternatives.

Is there a bigger problem?

Ultimately, consumers, artists or labels will have to bear the costs if vinyl has to be made more sustainable.

But even though a large piece of PVC may feel like the least green option, are we getting confused when we should be looking in another direction?

Figures from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) estimate global vinyl sales last year at around 80 million – using the music emissions calculator from independent music business association IMPALA, which arrives at a production of approximately 156,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

Read more:
UK vinyl sales at their highest level since 1990
Vinyl added to a typical shopping cart used in the inflation calculation

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Comparing that to streaming, where Spotify alone is responsible for around a third of the market, its own estimates for global CO2 emissions last year were 280,000 tonnes, using huge amounts of electricity to power its data storage servers.

For Enter Shikari’s Reynolds, the potential to green vinyl is exciting.

“It’s the same quality, the same look, you really wouldn’t notice the difference, which is incredible,” he says. “I think it speaks to, you know, a lot of times people think that the transition society is about to continue, we think we’re going to lose luxury… but I think that’s just an example of why that is. ” not the case.

“You know, all it takes is some thinking and some adjustment, and then some adoption… it’s super exciting.”

Perhaps now is the time for the music industry to take note.

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