The problem of the music industry’s huge carbon footprint has rumbled along in the background for decades.
The issues are many and varied but the resurgence of vinyl over the last decade in particular has led to questions over the ecological impact of record sales. Pressing millions of vinyl records each year alone consumes huge amounts of energy and resources.
So when Nathon Raine and Phil Leigh, directors of Leeds-based independent music retailer Norman Records, worked out that they had sold four elephants worth of records (24 tonnes) last year – up from six tonnes in 2008 – they decided to do something about it.
“That’s a lot of oil, and seeing it illustrated in that way did cause us to think a little harder,” Mr Raine told The Yorkshire Post.
Vinyl sales now enjoy a 3.6 per cent share of the overall recorded music market, including streaming. Over one in 10 of all physical albums purchased now are on vinyl. In total, there were 4.2 million records sold in the UK during 2018.
Norman Records, which was founded in 1995, and has a turnover of £1.5m, has seen its sales grow fourfold in the last decade. Last year it sold just under 71,000 vinyl records. On top of that it shifted over 10,000 CDs and nearly 1,000 cassette tapes.
“There has been an explosion of interest in film and even video game soundtracks on vinyl,” said Mr Raine. “And... we see more female names on our order sheets than we used to – although it’s still (very much) a market dominated by male buyers.”
However, Mr Raine admitted there is a conflict between wanting to sell more records and being conscious about the environment. “Vinyl records are basically made from oil and chlorine, which are extracted from hydrocarbon and salt resources using vast amounts of energy and pollutant chemicals,” he said.
But he added: “While vinyl records undoubtedly have a high environmental cost, they are the antithesis of single-use, disposable plastics. If all plastic objects had the long lifetime that vinyl records do then we wouldn’t be seeing nearly as much controversy around ocean pollution and landfill.”
Norman Records has introduced a number of new green initiatives this year to try to reduce its carbon footprint including a free vinyl disposal service. Anything with value is handed over to charity and anything that can’t be reused is sent to a specialist unit for recycling vinyl in Selby, where it is broken down into pellets for future use.
Meanwhile, 100 per cent of the considerable amount of cardboard the company receives from suppliers is now recycled. It also offers the cardboard for local residents to reuse.
The company has also started offsetting the personal plastic use of its nine employees via Plastic Bank, which Mr Raine said has enabled it to become a plastic neutral workforce. Customers can even donate their ‘Norman points’ to purchase ‘Social Plastic Collection Credits’ which has allowed the collection and recycling of approx. 9.05kg of plastic waste this year so far.
Meanwhile, the firm aims to use 100 per cent recyclable packaging by the end of 2019 at the latest.
Mr Raine is optimistic about the future of vinyl. “There are plenty of challenges ahead, from the convenience of streaming, to the uncertainty around Brexit, to the rising costs of vinyl, to the environmental impact,” he said.
He added: “But we’re cautiously optimistic. At the end of the day we still believe that vinyl is the best format for enjoying music. We’re confident that a good chunk of the people who have just discovered (or rediscovered) vinyl will retain their passion for it.”
Here are Norman Records’ tips for becoming a more eco-conscious record collector:
Buy less vinyl (from other shops, of course, not us);
Look after it to ensure you don’t buy the same record twice;
Never throw unwanted vinyl away, either gift it, sell it, or get creative;
Recycle the bits that can be recycled. (If you live near Leeds take it to Norman Records and we will do it for you);.
Convert your NormanPoints into Social Plastic Collection Credits;
Raise awareness of the companies addressing the problem, and exert consumer pressure.