People may be paying less for music, but the environment is paying more.

Against the Stream

The transition to streaming has made listening to recorded music more affordable than ever before.

But it's also killing that planet, according to a study published by researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Oslo on Monday — dwarfing the environmental toll of the golden age of physical media.

Apples to Apples

To make sure they were comparing apples to apples, the researchers translated the environmental cost of producing vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs into greenhouse gas equivalents (GHGs). They then did the same for the storage and processing of music online.

They determined that music consumption in the United States resulted in GHGs of 140 million kilograms in 1977 (vinyl's peak) and 157 million in 2000 (the pinnacle of CD sales). By 2016, that figure soared to at least 200 million kilograms, and possibly more than 350 million kilograms.

Balancing Act

There is some good news, though: the transition to streaming has decreased the amount of plastic pollution produced by the music industry. In 1977, music makers were producing 58 million kilograms of plastic, but by 2016, that had dropped to just 8 million kilograms.

"The point of this research is not to tell consumers that they should not listen to music, but to gain an appreciation of the changing costs involved in our music consumption behaviour," researcher Matt Brennan said in a press release. "We hope the findings might encourage change toward more sustainable consumption choices and services that remunerate music creators while mitigating environmental impact," he added.


More on plastic pollution: Whales and Sharks Are the New Victims of Our Plastic Waste, Study Finds

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