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The Student News Site of Elkhart High School

The PENNANT Online

The Student News Site of Elkhart High School

The PENNANT Online

Not Just A Broken Record

Environmentalists sound off on hazards of vinyl record resurgence
Not+Just+A+Broken+Record

In recent years, the resurgence of vinyl records has taken the music industry by storm. Famous artists such as Taylor Swift, Travis Scott, Ariana Grande, and numerous others have embraced the nostalgic appeal of vinyl, often releasing “album variants”—slightly different designs of the same album. While this trend has rekindled a love for physical music formats, it also raises significant environmental concerns that cannot be ignored.

Vinyl records are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic derived from petroleum. The production of PVC involves harmful chemicals such as chlorine, which can release dioxins—a group of highly toxic compounds that are hazardous to both human health and the environment. The entire process, from extraction to manufacturing, leaves a massive carbon footprint.

The introduction of variants in vinyl records has become a marketing strategy to boost sales. Fans often feel compelled to purchase multiple versions of the same album due to the differences in aesthetics, as well as simply wanting to “collect them all,” leading to an increase in production. For instance, Taylor Swift’s Midnights album was released with four different cover designs and multiple colored vinyls, including jade green, blood moon, and mahogany. Similarly, Ariana Grande released Positions with several variants, including deluxe editions with exclusive covers and limited edition green and clear vinyls.

K-pop groups are also prominent players in the variant game. BTS’s BE album had multiple versions with different photo books and poster sets, enticing fans to collect them all. Blackpink’s The Album was released with four different versions, each featuring unique covers, photo books, and postcards.

This practice exacerbates the environmental impact. Each variant requires additional resources—more PVC, more packaging materials, and more shipping. This not only increases the carbon footprint but also contributes to plastic waste, as many records eventually end up in landfills.

The biggest motive behind releasing multiple variants is to drive sales. By creating a sense of exclusivity and urgency, artists and record labels pressure fans to purchase all available versions. This strategy artificially boosts album sales, which results in chart success. Dedicated fans each buying multiple copies of the same album can significantly impact the album’s position on the charts, giving the artist a competitive edge. However, this marketing tactic comes at a significant environmental cost.

Singer-songwriter Billie Eilish has been vocal about the environmental problems of vinyl production. In a 2021 interview with Vanity Fair, she expressed concern over the industry’s unsustainable practices, stating, “We need to be more aware of how much waste we’re producing. It’s great that vinyl is back, but we have to find a way to make it more sustainable.” Eilish has taken steps to mitigate her impact by using eco-friendly materials for her merchandise and reducing plastic usage wherever possible. For her album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? she opted for a more sustainable approach, such as using recycled materials for packaging and vinyl production.

The music industry, like many others, is at a crossroads. While the appeal of vinyl records is undeniable, the environmental cost is too high to ignore. Artists, record labels, and consumers must work together to find more sustainable solutions, such as reducing the number of variants to minimize unnecessary production, investing in research to develop more sustainable alternatives to PVC, encouraging recycling and proper disposal of vinyl records, and promoting digital and streaming formats which have a significantly lower environmental impact.

It is important to note, however, that while vinyl has had these negative impacts, the overall carbon footprint of recorded music must also be considered. Although digital streaming seems eco-friendly and sustainable on the surface, it involves significant energy consumption due to data centers and server farms. These facilities require large amounts of electricity to store and process the streaming data, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental damage as well. Therefore, no format is entirely without environmental cost, and the music industry as a whole must address these issues comprehensively.

The nostalgia of vinyl records is a double-edged sword. As fans, we need to weigh our love for physical music against the importance of protecting our planet. The responsibility lies not only with the artists and the industry but with each of us to make informed choices that prioritize sustainability over collectibles. Only through collective action can we hope to mitigate the environmental impact of our love for vinyls.

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About the Contributor
Dania Razaq
Dania Razaq, Staff Writer
Hi! I'm Dania Razaq. Even though I am now a senior, this is my first year to be on The PENNANT staff. However, I love to use my communication skills to share information with my peers, so this is just a natural extension of that! One of my other passions is being a part of the Speech Team, which also provides me with a platform to connect with others about topics of importance. As you read my articles, I hope that you will share my enthusiasm!

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