Entertainment

Music industry’s ‘dirty little secret’ spurring on eco-records

As vinyl sales have exploded worldwide – they were up almost 30 per cent in Australia last year – so has the carbon footprint of the production and distribution of records. The standard LP is made from PVC pellets, which make records extremely difficult to recycle, the printing ink for covers and sleeves is typically solvent-based and transporting the precious cargo from factory to fan also tips vinyl into the carbon positive club. Adele, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift collectively produced more than a million records for their best-selling new releases and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Nirvana’s Nevermind were re-pressed in huge quantities in 2021. Coldplay and Sheeran joined the global green push for labels to adopt use of eco-friendly pellets, recycled cardboard packaging and carbon offsets for shipping, with recycled vinyl editions of their chart-topping albums. Green Music Australia CEO Berish Bilander said labels could further improve the sustainability of the nostalgic format by reducing the weight of records from the standard 180gm to 140gm. Adopting an on-demand sales model would stop leftover stock ending up in landfill, where it can take up to 1000 years to decompose. Vinyl has become increasingly influential in the make-up of the pop charts, as the sale of a physical album is weighted more highly than its streaming equivalent.“It’s a bit of dirty secret of the music industry, and it could have an enormous impact if they addressed this perverse incentive to get a lot of stock out the door the first week a new album is released so they chart (highly),” Bilander said. “So they print thousands and thousands that may or may not sell and after a few weeks, they get returned to a warehouse where they sit for a few months and then 12 months later they might end up in landfill.” Some leftover stock is sent back to vinyl producers to be re-used to make new LPs.And a record’s long life in a fan’s collection and second-hand value – without scratches, of course – would reduce its carbon footprint over decades.Streaming also isn’t as clean as it would seem. The huge energy resources required for the storage, processing and playing of data contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. In early 2022, Australian heavy rock band In Hearts Wake will launch its documentary Green Is The New Black about the carbon neutral mission to make its fifth album, Kaliyuga. Frontman Jake Taylor hopes the film will encourage other Australian artists to switch to eco-friendly production of their records, with Lime Cordiale, The Jungle Giants and Jack River already approaching the band for advice on reducing their carbon footprints. “I think we’re just at the start of the big wave (for green vinyl) but I think there’s going to be quite a rapid change as long as the companies producing the vinyl can meet demand,” Taylor said. “It has been a success with fans, it was our fastest selling record, even with people not being able to get into stores during lockdowns, because I think fans really connected with the environmental message and the meaning and energy behind the songs.” In Hearts Wake’s example inspired its leading independent Australian label, UNFD, to make its recent 10th anniversary LP and reissues of 10 of its biggest sellers all recycled vinyl, with energy carbon offsets. UNFD general manager Luke Logemann said one of the biggest challenges was convincing retailers to back getting rid of plastic wrapping. “A lot of warehouses don’t want to take vinyl without the plastic wrapping because of risk of damage, so we got around that by creating this simple sleeve of recycled paper that keeps the record from falling out,” Logemann said. Logemann said the uptake of recycled vinyl would be affected by the seven to nine-month wait to press new orders.Angus Stone is one of hundreds of artists worldwide who had to push back their new releases because of the surge in demand for vinyl, and the global supply chain crisis. The first print run of his specially animated Dope Lemon record Rose Pink Cadillac was produced in Czechoslovakia and will hit stores for the album’s January 7 release. But Stone said he would be exploring other options, including recycled vinyl, for future pressings.“The transition to (recycled) materials is happening but one of the big challenges for artists is the waiting times; the waiting list to get your vinyl pressed is off the hook,” Stone said.

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