Are there any alternatives to plastic packaging for CDs?

BY Allison OuthitPublished Sep 26, 2011

I was talking with a fellow recording artist who is now only releasing his music via download to reduce the use of plastic, mostly because there was a large sections of the ocean that are contaminated with plastics. He saw this first hand in Australia and the locals told him shrink-wrapping from CDs is a major contributor to that. I really admire his choice to reduce the use of plastics and I thought about how that might be a financially viable thing for him to do because maybe the target market he is looking for downloads anyways, but heavy metal tends to be more of a collectors genre, so that might not be as viable for me. I still buy CDs, but I am concerned about the impact. I'm under the impression we use shrink wrapping on CDs because it's required by the stores and distributors. Are there any alternatives to this other than downloading? Are there biodegradable methods?

CDs in jewel cases with plastic wrap are among our most serious environmental offenders. The cases are made of PVC, which is non-biodegradable and difficult to recycle, being full of lead and all. Millions of them go into the landfill every year. Cardboard sleeves are at least recyclable, but standard cardboard eats trees and the manufacturing process puts toxins into the atmosphere. Some CD manufacturers are offering corn-based biodegradable cardboard, which seems a step in a better direction, unless (like me) you're concerned about the connection between corn production and the proliferation of the military-industrial complex. (Read Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma for the fun facts of how corn begets bombs.)

A better choice would be digital files. But considering the human and environmental cost of blood minerals, mined in war-torn countries like the Congo, that go into making computers and iPods ― well, even the lowly MP3 starts to look a bit evil.

My point is that consumerism is just plain shitty for the planet. All we can do is consume less, and when we do, choose products that have the least impact. Which is another reason to endorse vinyl as the all-time best music format, and I'm not just saying that because I hate the way we were forced to convert to CDs way back in the '80s and I'm still not over it. Not only do vinyl records last longer (for collectors, vinyl is forever!) but manufacturers can easily recycle unsold or returned vinyl; they basically just melt it down and start again. The cardboard sleeves can be shredded and recycled; the vinyl itself, while not ideal, breaks down better than PVC. There are no laws about what materials must go into making copies of albums. So the record industry is on its own recognizance, which is never a good thing for us poor consumers. Maybe if the industry sees that we really, seriously prefer vinyl, it'll take pity on us and our poor mama Earth and get rid of crappy CDs once and for all.

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