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Streaming music has a much higher environmental impact than you thought

Streaming music has a much higher environmental impact than you thought
[Photo: Ilya Ilford/Unsplash]

It’s easy to assume that streaming music is more environmentally friendly than buying physical CDs or vinyl records–no manufacturing waste, no plastic, no shipping costs–but new research has found that’s not necessarily the case.

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According to a joint study from the University of Glasgow and the University of Oslo, the advent of streaming music has led to “significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music.”

Streaming, of course, has led to a precipitous drop in plastic consumption. But the trade-off has been in the electricity needed to store and transmit digital audio files. The study calculates the impact of streaming through greenhouse gas equivalents, which combines the plastic and electricity used in production. Below is a breakdown of their findings:

Plastic Consumption

Peak LP sales (1977): 58 million kilograms
Peak cassettes sales (1988): 56 million kilograms
Peak CD sales (2000): 61 million kilograms
Peak downloading and streaming (2016): 8 million kilograms

Greenhouse Gas Equivalents

Peak LP sales (1977): 140 million kilograms
Peak cassettes sales (1988): 136 million kilograms
Peak CD sales (2000): 157 million kilograms
Peak downloading and streaming (2016): 200 million-to-350 million kilograms

“Storing and processing music online uses a tremendous amount of resources and energy, with a high impact on the environment,” said Kyle Devine, an associate professor in music from the University of Oslo in a statement.

Matt Brennan, a reader in popular music from the University of Glasgow, added, “We see raising awareness of the findings as a first step towards developing alternatives, where music consumption can become both economically sustainable for makers while being environmentally sustainable for the planet.”

Read more about the study here.

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