The transition from physical media to streaming services has significantly reduced plastic pollution. A reduction in overall costs is also an observable benefit resulting from this shift. Despite these advantages, there are some unintended consequences that have emerged from society’s increased focus on these services. Streaming providers such as Apple Music and Spotify are increasing their carbon emissions to keep up with the rising demand. This pollution is contributing a significant amount to climate change according to a recent study.
The University of Oslo teamed up with the University of Glasgow on a project coined The Cost of Music. This joint venture is warning consumers that the amount of energy required to stream and store digital media isn’t any less harmful to the environment than the plastic waste produced from physical media. This study started by measuring the environmental cost of tangible media over the past ten years. After adjusting for inflation, these numbers were compared with the changes that average salaries have undergone in the past decade. These numbers were also set against the average percentage of an individual’s weekly salary that would be spent on music.
According to the study, music hasn’t ever been more affordable to own. For example, a vinyl record cost around $28.55 in 1997. A digital download only cost around $11.11 in 2013. Despite the decreasing prices for music, people were willing to put less of their weekly salaries towards purchasing this form of media. Although the total number of plastics used by the industry dropped tremendously between 2000 and 2016, the pollution caused by the streaming generation has been shown to cause more pollution overall.
Between 2000 and 2016, the total number of plastics consumed in the name of physical media dropped from 61 million kilograms to only 8 million kilograms. However, more greenhouse gasses are being released in order to support the amount of digital media being consumed in today’s society. The results of this study correct the general misconception that digital music is better for the environment. Although the amount of plastic used in this industry has been drastically reduced, other causes of greenhouse gas emissions have arisen.
Streaming providers use a significant amount of energy to store, process and disperse music online via their platforms. As subscriptions to these services continue to rise each year, the amount of pollution will also increase. The study also found similar problems facing Google and the existence of cryptocurrency mining.