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Step into the digital era and stop buying CDs: The Environmental perspective.

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I’m a big fan of digital formats. I use them, I like them and I encourage people to do the same. I remember the old days when I had to choose 10 CDs of my collection before taking any plane. Now, I take my whole collection with me: who can plan what he’ll want to hear in 3 days? But over the last months, I found lots of people who didn’t want to use digital formats and wanted to stick to the CD. With this post, I’m starting a series of five posts about audio digital formats and why you should definitely switch to these. I decided to explore four different points about downloadable products: the Audiophile point of view, the Environmental point of view, the Artist point of view, and the User point of view. Let’s begin today with the environmental point of view.

A CD (or DVD) is mainly made of aluminum (sometimes gold or silver), polycarbonates and acrylic. These elements are already processed: aluminum comes from bauxite, and to make plastics, crude oil from the ground is combined with natural gas and chemicals in a manufacturing or processing plant. The box is made from another type of plastic: PVC. I think you already know that PVC is an hazardous material. Of course, you need energy to power these plants and transportation of these materials.

After that comes manufacturing: first, the plant creates a 1 millimeter thick polycarbonate disc where the digital information is encrypted. This disc is then covered with a reflective aluminum layer and finally protected with an additional layer of lacquer. The other side of the disc is screen printed using inks, stencils, squeegees among other things. And the booklet is offset printed: more inks, more chemicals, more trees cut to produce paper.

Once the CD is manufactured, it is packed (these jewel boxes and blisters) and sent to retailers, distributors and whoever needs copies… Transportation by plane, truck, or rail requires the use of fossil fuels for energy, which contribute to climate change.

At this point you actually buy them, use them… and break them. Or scratch them. Or directly toss them. And the whole thing become waste. Like another 100,000 pounds of CDs monthly.

Of course, you can always recycle them: this means more processing, more chemicals, more energy. Why would you want that when you can avoid using all this energy and chemicals?

An alternative exists: downloadable products. They don’t use much energy to be created, they don’t need physical transportation, don’t involve any type of plants or chemicals, and can be discarded with no impact on the environment. And they have many more advantages for you, but we’ll see that in later posts. Of course you need a device to play them, which still needs to be manufactured. But don’t you need a device to play CDs as well?

As you can see buying a CD instead of digital products has environmental consequences. But even if you don’t care about these, I’m sure you’ll find another good reason to use digital music instead of CDs, and we’ll explore that in the following posts concerning sound quality, the user perspective and the pros for artists. Stay tuned!

P.S: A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a really enlightening document about the life cycle of a CD or a DVD: here it is.

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