January 28, 2020
From toxic wastewater to greenhouse gas emissions, the boom in vinyl has dangerous effects – but streaming isn’t as clean an alternative as it looks
Nightmares on wax: the environmental impact of the vinyl revival
Inside a US vinyl pressing plant – its owners have asked that I do not give its location – dozens of hydraulic machines run all day and night. These contraptions fill the building, as long as a city block, with hissing and clanking as well as the sweet-and-sour notes of warm grease and melted plastic. They look like relics, because they are. The basic technological principles of record pressing have not changed for a century, and the machines themselves are decades old.
While it is far exceeded by revenues from streaming, the vinyl market keeps growing – Americans now spend as much on vinyl as they do on CDs, while there were 4.3m vinyl sales in the UK last year, the 12th consecutive year of growth. So, if you’re one of the millions of people to re-embrace vinyl records, it’s worth knowing where they come from and how they’re made. There are containers called hoppers at each pressing station, brimming with the lentil-like polymer pellets that get funnelled down into the machinery, heated and fused to form larger biscuits that resemble hockey pucks, and squashed to make records.
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