Saturday, July 13, 2024

How Billie Eilish, Coldplay Are Making Vinyl Records More Sustainable

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Everyone already knows vinyl is back. In 2023, people bought more vinyl LPs than CDs for the first time in 35 years, and even the bins of your local independent record store are likely stuffed with new releases from the world’s biggest pop stars.

But the remarkable resurgence of this supposedly obsolete music format has raised concerns over the environmental toll of manufacturing and shipping millions of what are essentially plastic discs.

“I can’t even express to you how wasteful it is,” Billie Eilish told Billboard earlier this year of the vinyl boom, and the way many artists are pressing multiple versions of an album to juice sales and chart position. “I find it really frustrating as somebody who really goes out of my way to be sustainable and do the best that I can and try to involve everybody in my team in being sustainable — and then it’s some of the biggest artists in the world making fucking 40 different vinyl packages that have a different unique thing just to get you to keep buying more.” 

Eilish is definitely not alone in her concerns, and over the past few years, there have been numerous efforts to make vinyl — both the records themselves, and the manufacturing process — more sustainable. And now, finally, many of those practices and products are hitting the mass market. 

Eilish, for instance, found eco-friendly ways to release her latest album, Hit Me Hard and Soft, especially on vinyl and cassette. And earlier this month, Coldplay announced that they would release their 10th album, Moon Music, on a variety of formats that all meet “new sustainability standards.” Numerous eco-friendly vinyl pressing plants have popped up around the world, from the Dutch plant Deepgrooves to Audiodrome Record Pressing, a solar-powered boutique plant that opened in Gainesville, Florida, earlier this year. 

One of the biggest ways to make vinyl more eco-friendly is to move away from the material they’ve been made out of forever: The plastic polymer, polyvinyl chloride, or PVC (which, it should be noted, is used to make much, much more than just records). PVC is partly synthesized from petrochemicals and then, as a 2020 Guardian article noted, mixed with other additives to create a plastic compound. PVC itself, the article goes on to note, contains carcinogenic chemicals, and the manufacturing process has been known to produce all kinds of toxic waste.

To make the physical versions of Moon Music, Coldplay partnered with Sonopress, a German company that worked with Warner Music Group, to launch the EcoRecord last year. Rather than using PVC, these records are made from a base material of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is also a plastic polymer but a very recyclable one. Sonopress says that the EcoRecord can be made from 100 percent recycled PET, like plastic bottles, with about nine bottles making one LP. 

When announcing Moon Music, Coldplay said that making their vinyl LPs — compared to traditional 140g vinyl LP — would prevent the use of 25 metric tonnes of virgin plastic, while also reducing 85 percent of CO2 emissions during the manufacturing process. Meanwhile, the Moon Music CDs, also manufactured by Sonopress, were made from 90 percent recycled polycarbonate sourced from waste that would’ve otherwise wound up in a landfill. 

(Along with Coldplay, Sonopress has manufactured EcoRecords for Ed Sheeran, Ashnikko, and Liam Gallagher and John Squire. There’s also a Dutch company, Green Vinyl Records, that’s been using PET to press records for the past couple of years.)

Even if sticking with PVC, there are ways to make the vinyl manufacturing process more sustainable. For Hit Me Hard and Soft, Eilish used vinyl made from Eco-Mix or BioVinyl. Eco-Mix, spearheaded by the Ontario-based Precision Record Pressing, takes rejected records and excess trim cut from newly pressed vinyl, grinds it up again, and uses that to press new albums. And BioVinyl — made by the German company Optimal Media — bills itself as a “bio-based PVC” that replaces petrochemicals with used cooking oil or industrial waste gases. 

Beyond the vinyl disc itself, there are other considerations for making physical media more sustainable. According to Eilish’s website, the packaging for Hit Me Hard and Soft, for instance, was made from recycled paper. Additionally, the ink used was “raw plant-based and water-based dispersion varnish,” and the album sleeves are billed as “100% recyclable and re-usable” instead of single-use shrink-wrap.

All of these innovations are welcome and will hopefully become more widespread in the coming years. But as Eilish seemed to suggest in her Billboard interview, effectively addressing climate change doesn’t come down to individual artists (or even consumers) advocating for and making greener choices — it’s about convincing the major corporations that dominate the music industry to adopt these practices, too. 


When asked if there were any “blueprints” she could follow to make her career more sustainable, Eilish was frank: “It was bleak out there.” 

She continued: “We would be in meetings for things and my mom would [ask], ‘What are you guys doing to be more resourceful and conscious?’ And they’d be like, ‘Oh, uh, well, you know…’ They’d be tripping and stumbling over their words because they’re not doing anything. And it was kind of alarming to find that no one’s really doing anything to better the world. And the problem is, us people living in the world with no power — ‘us’ in terms of anybody — we’re all like, ‘Oh, don’t use plastic straws. We’re going to use horrible, soggy paper straws to save all the turtles. And we’re going to get electric cars. And we’re going to not use blow dryers,’ or whatever it is to save the planet. And then these giant companies are not even doing anything when they have so much more power. We’ve had a lot of conversations and people are trying, but even when they’re trying, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. We’re going to have that in 2026.’ And you’re like, ‘Well, that’s not fast enough.’”

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