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Green vinyl

Old records become environmentally friendly thanks to an innovative production process.

by Eni Staff
4 min read
byEni Staff
4 min read

Some things in life are worth holding on to, and vinyl is one of them. That is the notion that inspired Gary Freiberg, of Los Osos, California, to found “Vinyl Record Day” on 12 August, a date that also commemorates the inventor of the phonograph, Thomas Edison. And so it is that every year, on this day, the US celebrates the good old vinyl record. It’s not nostalgia, though, that prompts us to talk about vinyl today, but the fact that LPs and 7-inch records have finally “gone green”.

The digital economy hit the music world hard, with CDs and streaming services relegating record players and records to the attic. Yet this niche market has held out, kept alive by passionate and nostalgic record lovers. Vinyl may have been in dire straits back in the 1980s, but now it seems destined for a major revival, as year by year sales have started creeping up again. The turnaround dates back to 2018, when even though music was readily available for streaming, vinyl sales grew to almost 10 million. This positive trend inspired artists to start releasing vinyl again, but producers and distributors face considerable manufacturing difficulties.

New old vinyls

In Bordertown, New Jersey, the Independent Record Pressing company can produce a million pieces per year, but its production capacity is not suited to an expanding market due to equipment designed and built in a pre-digital era. Needless to say, a balance could be maintained only as long as production aimed to satisfy a relatively small number of enthusiasts and was distributed among a few factories with equally low innovation rates. But today demand has gone sky-high. Records are the new thing, with the added novelty that both consumers and artists are attuned to the environment and as such disapprove of products that are not eco-friendly.

As a result, the Green Vinyl Records company was born: a collaboration between eight Dutch companies that have developed an environmentally friendly manufacturing process for vinyl. Plastics have been replaced with green materials, while the original look and feel have remained unchanged, so that buyers can experience that same old pleasure when seeing and touching their beloved records. Green Vinyl Records explains that their new process relies on an injection moulding technique rather than pressing, and on new eco-friendly materials rather than plastics. This results in energy savings of over 70%, faster production rates and a smaller carbon footprint. Indeed, up until now record manufacturing involved polyvinyl chloride (PVC), toxic acids and high energy consumption; moreover, PVC takes 100 years to decompose. Experimental attempts to produce “sustainable records” have also taken off overseas. In Canada, Viryl Technologies has designed and built a highly innovative vinyl pressing machine using sensors, cutting-edge materials and up-to-date processes.

The new LP manufacturing technology also reduces energy usage throughout the vinyl record supply chain. The new technique, called “WarmTone”, is a fully automated pressing system that helps reduce inefficiencies in standard manufacturing cycles by tracking the process from start to finish. This takes place through an intuitive interface that monitors several factors, including temperature control, avoiding the excessive energy consumption required by the former process. This innovation has met with great success and the technology is now used by many companies in the sector.

Going back to the Netherlands’ vinyl record industry, Deepgrooves is a company that defines itself as “the only vinyl pressing plant worldwide which is producing premium vinyl records ‘as green as possible’”. Its goal is to manufacture “green records” using a calcium-based granulate, as well as eco-friendly, vegan ink for printing on the products and packaging, and shipping pallets made of recycled cardboard. The company has even adopted a “circular production” process, using organic waste as biomass to generate sustainable electricity. This all goes to show how industrial realignment can transform even a field as specific as this and infuse it with its two key concepts: innovation and sustainability.