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Streaming produces more pollution than any other music format, study finds

The surprising findings come as we pay less than ever for access to recorded music…

Streaming is more wasteful than any other music format, according to a new study by the University of Glasgow.

Despite a dramatic drop in the amount of plastic waste produced by vinyl, CDs, cassettes and other analog formats, streaming has a far worse impact on the environment. 

The US music industry used 58m kilograms of plastic in 1977, a figure that rose to 61m kg by the peak of CD use in 2000. While it fell to just 8m kg by 2016 as streaming took over, the energy needed to store vast amounts of data on the cloud far surpassed that of any other format. 

Shown as greenhouse gas equivalents (GHGs), the plastic produced and electricity used to store and transmit digital audio files was somewhere between 200m kg and 350m kg for all recorded music in 2016 in the US alone. That’s far more, comparatively than the 157m kg used in 2000.  

This comes at a time when consumers have never paid less for music. While in 1977 consumers paid nearly 5% of their average weekly salary to own a vinyl album, that number has slipped to 1% in the US, as platforms like Spotify and Apple Music deliver temporary access to nearly every album available for a low monthly fee. 

The study’s authors note that the environmental impact they found isn’t necessarily the final word on the matter, as other factors might come into play. However, it’s worth thinking about the hidden costs of streaming next time you click play.  

To help the environment, DJs for Climate Action have enlisted The Revenge, Cyril Hahn, Marcel Vogel, Fish Go Deep, Till Von Sein and others for their new party series and compilation. And to learn about dance music’s impact on the environment, read our feature here.

(Photo: Chris Pollard)