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In search of the ecological vinyl record

Nobody has been thinking about this scenario since the 1990s, but here we are in 2022 with the turnover of sales of vinyl records exceeding those of CDs. The increase in demand poses a challenge for the environment that some have decided to try and meet, to continue promoting a format that refuses to disappear.

Ecological vinyl record
Ecological vinyl record

In 2022 we reached a turning point in the history of the music industry over the past 35 years: vinyl sales exceeded those of CDs. According to data from Promusicae, in a physical market that continues to decline (it accounted for only 12.26% of the total), vinyl increased by 15%, already more than 52% of the physical market with regard to turnover. This data is important because, in units, more CDs are still being bought than vinyl (2.6 million units compared to 1.7 million vinyl records shipped in 2022), but people are willing to pay more for this format.

Whether this is due to nostalgia, the attractiveness of the format, just to make a stance or because they dig the sound, the fact is that it is increasingly common to find this format in the albums of both emerging and consolidated artists, and even stars of the stature of Rosalía and Taylor Swift have chosen to release their albums on vinyl.

Unfortunately, the increased demand in the manufacture of vinyl is associated with significant environmental costs, mainly due to the old manufacturing techniques that in many cases have not changed in the last fifty years, and the management of the material with which they are manufactured, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl), which is toxic and complicated to recycle.

To counteract these effects as much as possible, and to continue enjoying our vinyl records, a company called Deepgrooves, located in the Netherlands, has undertaken a series of innovations in its manufacturing process that make it (in their own words) the most ecological vinyl pressing plant on the planet. These include the removal of heavy metals in the manufacturing process, replacing them with calcium and zinc. What is more, the machinery is operated using green energy, green gas and solar energy. The labels and boxes are FSC certified, they use organic ink, adhesive tape made of biodegradable paper, in other words, a multitude of measures that are make the factory almost 100% circular with regard to waste, recycling and energy.

Very near there you will find Green Vinyl Records. This is a collaborative project between eight Dutch companies whose objective is to reduce the amount of energy used and waste produced in the manufacturing process for vinyl records. In this case, it is a direct commitment to replacing the PVC with a new compound called EP808 that they assure us "can achieve a sound that is just as good or even better because it has a wider frequency spectrum, does not lose its shape and also has a longer useful life". It is also 100% recyclable and requires using 60% less energy to mould. Nor is paper used to make the labels since they are printed directly onto the LP. The following companies are involved in this project: Symcon B.V., Polymer Research Group B.V., Geelen installations, Koot Automation & Service, MPB Mechanical Parts, Record Industry, Fontys Foundation, University Applied Natural Sciences and Mikrocentrum.

Evolution Music Ltd, in the United Kingdom, is also committed to a changing in manufacturing materials, replacing vinyl with bioplastics produced from vegetable products, such as soya bean oil, corn or potato starch that would maintain the quality of the sound but do not require changes in the pressing plants.

Another British start-up, ElasticStage, envisages making a significant change with regard to traditional processes by employing a progressive method to produce vinyl records and graphic material. ElasticStage does not press vinyl, but every record manufactured is a first generation recording. With their system, they assure us, current long delivery times which can be up to twelve months will be eliminated, and artists could sell their LPs from the very first moment. The process would also eliminate the use of harmful chemicals and consume less energy.

For a number of years we have had a format called High Definition Vinyl. It is cut by laser which avoids the use of toxic chemicals and improves the already long useful life of vinyl records.

So it seems that vinyl is back to stay, (at least for a few more years), and that it will surely continue to be called that regardless of the material with which it is manufactured in the future. We will talk about the return of the cassettes another day.

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