Music lovers have evolved from listening to their favourite tunes on vinyl to a cassette to CD to digital. Technology has made it possible for them to enjoy different genres because of streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, and SoundCloud.
Spotify, in reality, is the world’s most popular music streaming service, with more than 200 million active users and approximately 130 million paying subscribers.
Users prefer streaming music to save thousands of songs offline on different devices, thus, rendering purchasing music superfluous.
However, as of late, the question now, is switching to streaming music the best choice for the environment?
The Fall of the Plastics and Rise of the CO2
First, let us look at the plastic pollution point of view. It made more sense of switching to digital for the environment. According to a study from the University of Glasgow, the plastic used for production was reduced dramatically from 58,000 tonnes in 1977 to 8,000 tonnes by 2016 when streaming music was introduced.
However, it is a different story when it comes to carbon emission. Music and video streaming platforms require energy to generate and transfer every byte of data from data centres to the cell tower to users’ devices.
From the same study, the researchers revealed that by 2016 they estimated the carbon emission was between 200,000 tonnes and over 350,000 tonnes in the U.S. alone. As a comparison, the carbon emissions were 140,000 tonnes in 1977, 136,000 tonnes in 1988, and 157,000 tonnes in 2000.
Dr Kyle Devine, an associate professor in Music at the University of Oslo, concurred, “storing and processing music online uses a tremendous amount of resources and energy – which [has] a high impact on the environment.”
Should Users Go Back to CDs?
As mentioned, every time users stream a track, the platform requires energy to transmit across a network to a router, transferred by WiFi to their devices.
Meanwhile, as for CDs, they can play them on repeat. The only carbon cost came from running it on a player. But, when a user is streaming music with a hi-fi sound system, it was estimated that it used 107 kWh of electricity a year, while a CD player used 34.7kWh a year.
Hence, the question is, which is the greener option? Sharon George, a lecturer in environmental science, said it depended on many things, including how many times you listen to your music.
“If you listen repeatedly, a physical copy is best – streaming an album over the internet more than 27 times will likely use more energy than it takes to produce and manufacture a CD.”
Consider Downloading Content Instead of Streaming
Since most resources are finite, it is essential to make sustainable choices and reduce carbon footprint. This is because data centres must be powered by renewable energy sources such as solar, hydroelectric, or nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions.
Researchers suggested downloading material ahead of time so that networks aren’t overburdened and connected to WiFi instead of using mobile data to stream media to save electricity.
On the other hand, technology companies will continue to play a significant role in reducing the environmental effect of streaming, for example, by increasing energy efficiency – both now and in the future through emerging technologies – and by investing in renewable energy to power their data centres and networks.
Designing and coding in a more sustainable way, such as enhancing video compression, may also help. A recent study looked at how switching YouTube music videos to audio-only while playing in the background could save energy and reduce emissions.