Vinyl records are bad for the environment – it’s time for that to change

Image taken from Instagram @saoirse_music. Photography by Anna Álvarez

In light of the recent IPCC climate report, it’s high time the music industry reconsiders its approach. Now, a label has figured out how to produce 100 per cent recyclable records.

In the UK alone, vinyl record sales have been growing exponentially for the last 12 consecutive years and in 2020 alone, 4.3 million vinyl sales were made. While that’s great news for old school music nerds and Billie Eilish – who, according to Pitchfork, had the second-biggest vinyl sales week since 1991 with her new album Happier Than Ever – it turns out the medium is actually pretty bad for the environment.

On the surface, the vinyl boom might seem like a slower and more conscious way of consuming and acquiring music, but in fact, its production methods are outrageously outdated: the PVC used to make records can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, while pressing machines powered by steam boilers require fossil fuels to generate the heat and pressure to operate.

When it comes to packaging and production, things don’t look much better. The ink used to print cover art is usually solvent-based which can contribute to the production of ozone, not to mention the journey from pressing plant to customer leaves a significant carbon footprint behind.

So what can we do to help?

This is the call to arms made by Bobby Connolly, founder of Needs – Not For Profit, a charity record label with an aim to use music as a means to unite people and promote sustainability within the scene. Since its 2017 launch, one thing has come into sharper focus than ever for Connolly: there’s no such thing as an eco-friendly music industry if vinyl production methods aren’t overhauled completely.

With previous releases from producers Eris Drew and Peggy Gou, it felt vital for Needs’ next musical output to be as green as possible. While it’ll feature equally big names such as BBC Radio 1 resident Saoirse and Melbourne bass producer Pugilist, the vinyl record will be 100 per cent recyclable, using 60 per cent less energy cost compared to traditional vinyl production methods.

And it’s thanks, in large part, to Green Vinyl, a Dutch pressing plant committed to revolutionising the ways in which labels press their records. For them, it isn’t a case of putting some solar panels on the roof and calling themselves green,” Connolly says. They have patented their own technology, which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.” This includes injection moulding rather than steam pressing, and zero PVC use – which is a harmful carcinogenic – making the product totally recyclable at home.

The owner, Harm Theunisse, was a key figure in the 90s CD business,” Connolly continues. When his customers asked if he could sell them a vinyl pressing machine, he realised the manufacturing process hadn’t changed in 100 years and saw a big opportunity.”

In terms of whether the milestone Green Vinyl has achieved spells the future of vinyl, remains to be seen, though. After the recent climate report, we can see that time is running out to make these changes,” Connolly explains, before pointing out that humans, generally, are pretty resistant to radical change. Unfortunately, you either have to evolve or become extinct, so our options are limited.

Luckily, I think the music industry is a fairly forward-thinking place, even more so electronic music. It’s a fertile ground for new ideas and technologies. I think it just takes a few people to lead the way – hopefully that can inspire others to do the same. The time for change is now.”

Click here to pre-order Needs x GVR’s The Future of Vinyl’s new release

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