Making Music Sustainable

How To Solve The Vinyl Industry’s Sustainability Problems

Barbie Bertisch
Apr 22, 2018 · 11 min read

Recycling Vinyl

The idea of recycling vinyl isn’t new. Labels like Chicago’s TRAX used recycled vinyl to press some of their 1980s releases, but the results were not always well received. Vinyl records are made from (PVC) pellets, which are melted and pressed into disc form. The material’s chemical and molecular attributes have a huge impact on the audible quality of music playback, and a disc made with low-grade or impure raw materials will sound terrible.

Not all vinyl is suitable for recycling: your dirty dollar-bin finds need thorough cleaning before they can be considered for the process. (Photo: Chris Mayes-Wright.)

Get Clean, Go Green

But what if there was a solution for large-scale vinyl washing that would take the dirty, unwanted records sitting on your shelf, and make them suitable for recycling, without compromising the quality of the material?

Urban Outfitters clothing stores have been selling reissued records for several years, riding the vinyl comeback wave. (Photo: deathandtaxesmag.com.)

Shipping

An obvious area where there’s a lower barrier of entry for sustainability is where paper products come into play. The use of packaging has a large environmental impact but is also the easiest to set into a greener cycle. Recycled paper products are widely available in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the vinyl industry sure uses a lot of it.

The outgoing shipping station at Halcyon’s warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo: Chris Mayes-Wright.)

Re-use

The issue of re-using cardboard packaging brings up a point of contention. Some vendors may discourage the reuse of cardboard LP mailers, due to a concern that a re-used mailer may not be as strong as an unused one. Take for example the shipping instructions on the massive reselling network that is Discogs. Others will state that it’s fine to repurpose inserts and boxes without compromising the safe travel of their beloved records. But integrity of the shipped item always takes priority — especially if it is a particularly valuable collectors’ edition — so more often than not, a seller will choose to use new packing materials.

Responsible Packaging

How could the process of making a record be streamlined? From making and shipping test pressings, to printing labels, etc; it seems unreasonable to not want to see this as an ideal opportunity to reduce our footprint.

Keeping It Local

Small shops and labels often don’t have the financial freedoms that majors or larger businesses enjoy. Besides working actively to recycle vinyl, perhaps there’s more work that can be done to incorporate reuse of packaging or even utilizing recycled products for record covers. Some cities benefit from nearby manufacturing and are happy to keep production local, which in turns reduces the need for the product to travel vast distances in between (which also involves fossil fuels and more packaging for safety).

New Technologies

Some say the future of vinyl is in 3D printing, but there’s a lot of skepticism given that the final product isn’t yet sounding halfway decent. While there’s an effort on various fronts to crack the next exciting development in physical music, most lean towards reducing production inefficiencies and developing modern technology to cut down on waste and increase yields.

A vinyl press for the 21st Century: Viryl Technologies’ WarmTone. It’s cleaner and more efficient than its predecessors; it can even be controlled by an iOS device! (Photo: http://www.viryltech.com/)

Musical Chemistry

More directly impacting the environment, however, is the chemical composition of the materials used in PVC, which is used to make vinyl records. Alex DesRoches explains that sustainability is a big part of the conversation: “PVC manufacturers are constantly taking steps to produce a more sustainable product. One of the big changes most of the industry has embraced is a move away from lead-based PVC to a more environmental friendly stabilizer in calcium. On top of this, a lot of plants are taking a modern approach to manufacturing by adding new technology and updating their infrastructure to promote lower power consumption and higher yields which reduce the amount of waste significantly.”

Novation // Notes

Stories from the World of Novation.

Barbie Bertisch

Written by

Love Injection / Classic Album Sundays NYC

Novation // Notes

Stories from the World of Novation.