Streaming Music Is Even Worse for the Environment Than Vinyl and CDs, Study Finds

While plastic production has decreased, streaming has now reportedly led to more greenhouse gas emissions than ever
Streaming Music Is Even Worse for the Environment Than Vinyl and CDs, Study Finds
While music streaming may seem like a green alternative to physical formats like vinyl, CDs and cassettes, that's not the case. In fact, according to a new study, digital music streaming via services like Spotify and Apple Music is reportedly leading to an unprecedented increase in greenhouse gas emissions, with the music industry contributing to climate change now more than ever.

The findings come via a joint study by the University of Glasgow and the University of Oslo called "The Cost of Music" — a research project that warns music fans the energy used to store and distribute digital media is having a very negative environmental impact.

As the researchers explain, the amount of plastic production used to create such physical formats as vinyl, cassettes and CDs has drastically decreased over the years as streaming has risen in popularity.

In the vinyl-peaking year of 1977, the music industry used 58 million kilograms of plastic. In the cassette-peaking year of 1988, that number dropped to 56 million kilograms of plastic. And in the CD-peaking year of 2000, the figure then rose back up to 61 million kilograms.

But then came the music streaming boom, leading the amount of plastics to drop to about only 8 million kilograms in 2016. And while on the surface that may sound like something our planet should be thankful for, music streaming is actually creating more greenhouse gas emissions than ever, according to the study.

"The figures may even suggest that the rises of downloading and streaming are making music more environmentally friendly," said lead researcher Dr. Kyle Devine of the University of Oslo. "But a very different picture emerges when we think about the energy used to power online music listening. Storing and processing music online uses a tremendous amount of resources and energy — which has a high impact on the environment."

The study goes on to explain that when the production of plastics and the generation of electricity was translated into greenhouse gas equivalents (or GHGs), streaming generates far more emissions overall. In the plastic-heavy year of 2000, the GHGs peaked at 157 million, but now the GHGs generated by the storing and streaming of digital files is estimated to be between 200 million to 350 million kilograms, and that's in the U.S. alone.

And while music consumption may be having a bigger environmental impact than ever, the study also shined a light on the fact that the price consumers are willing to pay for music has never been lower.

In 1997, music fans were willing to pay roughly 4.83 percent of their average weekly salary on music, according to the study's findings. In 2013, that dropped to 1.22 percent, and since the boom of streaming, it has sunk even lower. Nowadays, consumers are only willing to pay just over 1 percent of their weekly salary to listen to music, the study found.

"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," the University of Glasgow's Dr. Matt Brennan said. "We hope the findings might encourage change toward more sustainable consumption choices and services that remunerate music creators while mitigating environmental impact."

You can learn more about the findings of the project over here.