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Are Vinyl Records Biodegradable?

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Records have been around for decades. In recent years however they have started making a comeback. One concern that many people have is where do the records go when they are broken or thrown away? Does buying and listening to records now hurt the environment? 

So, are vinyl records biodegradable? Vinyl records are not biodegradable. They are made from plastic and take an estimated 1,000 years to completely decompose! Obviously records are not very good for the environment. 

Although records aren’t good for the environment in regards to how long they take to decompose they are good in that they can be used for DECADES whereas more recent music mediums like CDs will only last a few years.

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What are vinyl records made of? 

Vinyl records are made of…. vinyl (novel idea right). Vinyl is a synthetic man-made material and is a plastic made from ethylene (a product of crude oil) and chlorine delivered from common salts. It combines the two to form Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) resin which is what we call Vinyl. 

Vinyl is easy to make.  It’s more durable and cheaper compared to other materials available. It’s
products including electronics, flooring, siding, toys, cars, and of course records. 

PVC (vinyl) is not even close to being biodegradable and plastic takes up an estimated 79% of the space in landfills according to National Geographic. 

The issues with records

There are a few issues with records that cause them to be harmful to the environment. The first is where they have to go when they are broken or unused (as mentioned above). Obviously as the world population continues to grow the extra trash in landfills will begin to pile up. Eventually something will have to be done! 

Hopefully we won’t go the Wall-E route and just leave the planet full of trash while we take off leaving the mess behind. 

Another main issue with records is that the making of PVC (vinyl) is a dirty process. The process requires a substantial amount of energy as the process for making vinyl is decades old with many machines that haven’t been upgraded in almost 40 years! 

This inefficient process makes vinyl records even less environmentally friendly!

The third issue is that it takes a lot of records to make up a collection. You can’t just buy a couple records and be happy. Each record only holds 7-10 songs so you will have to purchase a large amount to be able to listen to all the songs that you want. 

Compare that to the environmental impact that streaming music has.  You can stream hundreds or thousands of songs or albums and not a single one will ever end up in a landfill. No energy has to be expended to make the physical media that holds the music either. 

So is there any good news? Not really. 

The only bright side to records is that once they are produced they require virtually no energy to play them and they can be used for many years without needing replaced (assuming you take care of them). 

Of course, that “upside” ends when you have to dispose of them and they sit in a landfill for the next millenia. 

Enormous pollution the pressing procedure!

As with plastic bags, vinyl records coming back isn’t a simple black-and-white issue. Despite vinyl records involving the use of fossil fuels, chemicals, and energy, they end up enduring decades of use. In a standard setting, the records rarely end up in landfills. Vinyl records are always cherished, bequeathed and resold. The inherent value means the unsold new records are often melted down and reused.

 How bad is the problem?

Not only are the records themselves bad for the environment but the packaging for the records is also an issue. Most records come with cardboard sleeves which even further impact the environment through:

  • Chopping down trees
  • Process them into a pulp with many chemicals
  • Turning the pulp into cardboard sleeves
  • Production of inks and printing

The environmental impact just keeps growing and that doesn’t even take into account the fuel and pollution put into the air transporting the records! 

Leading companies in the sector, such as TC Transcontinental, use recycled sources of paper and cardboard but there’s no regulation forcing other players in the market to undertake similar steps and procedures.

The ink used to print millions of cover arts and liner notes is traditionally solvent-based.  The solvent will normally contain volatile organic compounds resulting in damage to the ozone layer too! 

They encase a record in beautiful cardboard; they’re then shrink-warped in plastic wrap. This adds to the amount of pollution making its way to the landfill. 

Find Eco-vinyl.

As seen above, records aren’t biodegradable. The carbon footprints of vinyl manufacturing are high. The effect is broad from the aluminum lacquers to box-set packaging and more. This has made many eco-minded artists decide to release eco-friendly records.

The world saw the onset of the first EP records that was produced with 100 percent renewable energy. The records are made of recycled and renewable materials. The process also involves planting trees to offset carbon from the production process. Not to mention, the outer poly-bag is reusable as well. 

Non- biodegradable, what’s the solution?

The PVC vinyl records are recyclable but not on a consumer-level of a recycling bin. 

A conscious user should start the recycling journey with the cardboard sleeves and the plastic paper used to seal the record.

The only way to dispose of the record itself is to send the record off to specialist vinyl recyclers. Still, you can reuse unwanted vinyl records in other ways such as decorations instead of putting them in the trash. 

Often the best way to recycle things is to reuse them yourself! Maybe you can cut the record down and use it for a drink coaster. You could use them on the walls to decorate a game room or a music lover’s room. 

Want some more ideas? Check out this video below that is a combination of 100 cool ways to upcycle or reuse your old or damaged records.

Purchase Used Records

The best way to make records more environmentally friendly is to only buy used records and never purchase a new one! You can find records all over at thrift stores, pawn shops, yard sales, libraries, and more. 

When you buy a used record you are saving that record from going in the landfill as well as keeping the pollution from being emitted that it would have required to make the same record new. 

When buying used you will often have to make some sacrifices in regards to what style or era of music that you listen to but it is certainly a great way to help save our planet and keep the landfills from getting even more full!


Ultimately records are just not good for the environment if you are purchasing them new. They are not biodegradable and emit a lot of pollution to make them in the first place.

If you are concerned with the impact that records are having on our planet then buying used records or none it all is the best course of action.