Does Streaming Music Harm The Planet More Than Physical Media?

Sharon George, a lecturer in environmental science, and Deirdre McKay, a reader in geography and environmental politics, think so and they explain how and why in their article “How streaming music could be harming the planet” published by the BBC. Let’s get to the heart of it…

Once vinyl or a CD is purchased, it can be played over and over again, the only carbon cost coming from running the record player. However, if we listen to our streamed music using a hi-fi sound system it’s estimated to use 107 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, costing about £15.00 to run. A CD player uses 34.7 kilowatt hours a year and costs £5 to run.

So, which is the greener option? It depends on many things, including how many times you listen to your music. If you only listen to a track a couple of times, then streaming is the best option. 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.

Who woulda thunk? I don’t know about you, but my listening habits certainly involve lots of streaming, from Tidal and Qobuz, but when I find music I like, I buy it. Ideally from Bandcamp. And if the LP is available from Bandcamp, I typically buy that since it comes with the download which is at least CD-quality. Of course downloading and playing music uses less energy than streaming over the Internet.

Back to the article, here’s my favorite part:

In a world where more and more of our economy and social relations happen online, records, and other vintage music formats, buck that trend. Instead, the record revival shows us what we want to see in our media and material world more widely – experiences that hold their value and, with loving care, endure. Older music formats have a sense of importance and permanence attached to them, belonging to us in a way that our virtual purchases simply don’t.

discarded TVs, especially old cathode-ray televisions and computer monitors, are a bio-nightmare

What’s the moral of the story? Buy more music (and watch less TV).