Are Downloads More Earth-friendly Than CDs
By Adrienne Maxwell/Home Entertainment
My husband and I are at a crossroads in our marriage: Do we continue to buy CDs or do we do just go with the download? We’ve totally embraced the digital age—iTunes, iPods and iPhones are always within arm’s reach. Docks, players and car adapters—plus those quaint little things called headphones—allow us to listen to our digital music anywhere.
But are we ready to completely abandon the physical medium?
I think I am. I honestly can’t remember the last time that I walked over to our wall o’ CDs, picked out a disc and played it through the home entertainment system. For better or worse, my handheld music player has become my primary audio source, so I love the convenience of online music stores. Why drive to Best Buy and hope the new Gomez album is in stock when a few button clicks provide instant gratification?
My husband isn’t there yet. He’s still committed to purchasing physical discs, at least from his favorite artists. His devotion stems mainly from a desire to own a full-resolution copy, plus the ability to enjoy liner notes and artwork.
Valid reasons, to be certain. So he listens once to the CD, flips once through the liner notes, rips the music onto his computer using Apple Lossless compression, and then puts the CD on the shelf, never to be touched again. Is it worth it?
For the eco-conscious music lover, here’s some food for thought. Microsoft and Intel recently financed a study to determine the environmental impact of various music-delivery systems. The study evaluated six delivery methods and concluded that the direct-download method reduces energy and carbon dioxide emissions by between 40 and 80 percent, compared with the best physical-CD delivery. The percentage difference depends on whether the consumer then burns that digital music to a physical disc, with or without a jewel case.
Beyond energy-related issues, consider the raw materials consumed in the production of the disc, its case and those precious liner notes—not to mention the plastic shrink-wrap and 80-sum security stickers affixed to every store-bought CD. Then there’s the inevitable waste when the CD gets damaged or you just come to your musical senses and discreetly dispose of some embarrassing purchases. At the least, you should send unwanted discs to a CD recycler.
If you truly aren’t ready to give up on the CD, maybe a compromise is in order. Reserve your physical-CD purchases for top-shelf picks only. Visit Pandora or last.fm and listen to an album first to see if it’s worthy. The study did find that traditional retail delivery methods are nearly equivalent to downloading and burning if you were to walk to the store to buy the CD. Exercise? How quaint.
The study also states that files larger than 260 MB require more Internet energy use and therefore offset some of the advantage—a point that will surely come in to play when the debate moves to the movie realm. But that’s a topic for another day. After all, a marriage can only withstand one crossroads at a time.