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New study reveals streaming music leads to more greenhouse gas emissions than vinyl, cassettes, and CDs

On a surface level, music streaming may seem like a more environmentally-friendly option than physical formats, but a new study has revealed that that is not the case.

The findings from “The Cost of Music,” a joint study by the University of Glasgow and the University of Oslo, has revealed that music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have led to an unprecedented increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The research project warns music fans that the energy used to both distribute and store digital forms of music not only has a very negative impact on the environment, but it even outweighs that of the physical format, like vinyl, cassettes, and CDs.

According to the findings, the amount of plastic production involved in creating physical formats has drastically decreased, as digital media continues to grow in popularity. In 1977, which was when vinyl creation peaked, the music industry used a total of 58 million kilograms of plastic. In 1988, which was when cassette creation peaked, the number dropped to 56 million kilograms of plastic. Then, in 2000, which was when CD creation peaked, the number once again rose up to 61 million kilograms.

After the explosion of music streaming, in 2016 the amount of plastic dropped to a (seemingly) measly 8 million kilograms. On the surface, that appears to be beneficial to the environment, but according to the study, music streaming is actually making even more greenhouse gas emissions than ever before.

“The figures may even suggest that the rises of downloading and streaming are making music more environmentally friendly,” Lead researcher Dr. Kyle Devine of the University of Oslo explains. “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 then explains that when the production of plastics and generation of electricity was changed into greenhouse gas equivalents (GHGs), streaming creates far more emissions on the whole. In 2000, GHGs peaked at 157 million, but now, from storing and streaming digital files, the GHGs are estimated to be somewhere between 200 million and 350 million kilograms in the U.S. alone.

Despite GHGs being higher than ever, the study also investigates how consumers are willing to pay less for music than ever before. In 1997, music fans were willing to pay in and around 4.83 per cent of their weekly salary on music, whereas in 2013 that dropped to a measly 1.22 per cent, and since the boom of streaming, people are only willing to pay just over 1 per cent of their weekly salary.

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

Check out the entire study here.

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