You may be surprised to hear the vinyl industry is booming despite the shift to music streaming platforms and song downloads. It’s been on an upward swing for a bit now, but 2021 was the first year since 1986 that the industry broke US$1 billion in revenue, a 61% jump from 2020, which was already up from 2019 and so on for the past 15 years, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
But there’s one problem with vinyl – the vinyl. See, vinyl plastic, also known as polyvinyl chloride or PVC, is bad for the environment. Like, bad enough that Greenpeace, the global climate advocacy group, says that it’s the very worst kind of plastic for the environment. When the vinyl industry was dying, no one cared about this problem. But now that it’s making a comeback, it will matter much more.
When dealing with the environmental impact of vinyls, there are two main problems – how they’re made and what they’re made of.
The issue with the process is that the machines used to make vinyls are pretty inefficient when it comes to power usage. Some companies have offset that extra power usage by investing in sustainable energy practices. But a Dutch company called Green Vinyl Records spent the past seven years developing a new type of press that uses up to 90% less energy. Green Vinyl’s owner, Harm Theunisse, thinks it’s the “new standard” for the industry.
The materials issue is a little more complex to solve. Manufacturers use PVC because it sounds the best, and, for vinyl, the sound is debatably the most crucial part. Experts in the industry say that you can use other kinds of plastics if you’re just looking to make a vinyl that looks nice, but if you want something that sounds good, you’re going to have to use PVC.
That is, unless Green Vinyl Records’ new method of using polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a more recyclable type of plastic, works out. Green Vinyl just signed its first big order from Warner Music, so it could be right about the future of vinyl pressing.
The problem with this method? It’s more expensive. But, people in the industry say that if we really want vinyls to have a smaller carbon footprint, we’re going to have to buy the ones that make that wish a reality.