To my environmentally conscious, music-loving friends,

I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news: If you have retired that old dirty habit of driving to your local record shop to purchase a new Cd (complete with a leaflet, jewel case, and shrink wrap), and are now downloading music to your iPod, your impact on the planet is starting to look up. It is no secret that there have been environmental consequences for the creation of the compact disc, but have you ever thought about the impact that one Cd’s life cycle has on the planet?

Let’s break it down. A compact disc consists of three layers of materials: polycarbonate plastic, aluminum, and acrylic (some manufacturers use gold or silver instead of aluminum). These materials produce chemicals that are both, biologically and environmentally harmful during their creation and destruction. After the disc is made, it is placed in a jewel case and sealed.  That little jewel case housing your new Cd is an even bigger threat than the disc, itself.

The case is made of a material called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health, and other regulatory bodies have classified PVC as a human carcinogen.  According to an affidavit of the New York Attorney General’s toxicologist on the hazards of PVC, vinyl chloride exposure is a cancer agent, and is associated with adverse effects on a wide variety of target organs including the nervous system, liver, lungs, blood, immune system, cardiovascular system, skin, bones, and the reproductive organs.

As far as the environment is concerned: In  2002 a report was conducted by John Thornton, Ph.D., for the Healthy Building Network:

PVC is one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials ever produced. The PVC lifecycle presents one opportunity after another for the formation and environmental discharge of organochlorines and other hazardous substances. When its entire lifecycle is considered, it becomes apparent that this seemingly innocuous plastic is one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced, creating large quantities of persistent, toxic organochlorines and releasing them into the indoor and outdoor environments. PVC has contributed a significant portion of the world’s burden of persistent organic pollutants and endocrine-disrupting chemicals—including dioxins and phthalates—that are now present universally in the environment and the bodies of the human population. Beyond doubt, vinyl has caused considerable occupational disease and contamination of local environments as well.

At this point, we have only begun to explore the creation of the disc and the jewel case it is placed in.  The environmental harm continues with the packaging of the disc, the transportation to the retailer, the transportation to the consumer, the use of the disc, and finally the recycling process.

So the good news is if you are no longer investing in these toxic gems, then you are no longer an active participant in its volatile aftermath.

Now for the bad news.  Although it is an exceptionally better alternative to buying Cds, your iPod isn’t a device that Mother Nature owes you thanks for.  There are many different kinds of devices similar to the iPod, and there are many variations of the iPod, itself.  For the purpose of making a point, let’s look at the iPod Classic. According to an environmental report released by Apple, one iPod Classic releases an estimated 23 kg of greenhouse gases during its entire life-cycle.

A single Cd releases an estimated 3.2 kg of greenhouse gases. Considering production, transportation, and use, roughly 7.5 Cds equal the entire life of one iPod.  Assuming you owned more than 7 Cds before you got an iPod; comparatively speaking the iPod is a much more environmentally friendly choice. Just because the iPod is a greener alternative, it doesn’t mean the planet won’t pay the consequences for its existence.

Grist.org writer, Daniel K. Gardner, published an article that detailed aspects of the manufacturing process which are often overlooked, and are definitely not included in Apple’s environmental report. The coal that powers that Foxconn plant in China, where the iPods we cherish so dearly are manufactured, is mined in Shanxi, transported to coal terminals, and then shipped to the factories (all of which account for substantial amounts of greenhouse gas emissions not accounted for in Apple’s report). Gardner made another excellent point that most literally hit home for me.  The air about the factories moves east and in about 3 weeks, it is looming over the city of Los Angeles.  Between the coal mined for the factories, the transportation of the coal, the manufacturing of the iPod, and the residual pollution that makes its way to California, your green alternative is making its mark on the environment in ways that even I don’t want to consider.

So the bad news is that even though your iPod is a gentler alternative to expanding your Cd collection, by no means is it a sweet kiss on the cheek of Mother Nature.  I do not wish to point fingers (I have an iPod and love it like a family member).  I do wish to emphasize that every aspect of every one of our lives has a great impact on our beautiful planet.  Don’t worry, I am not suggesting that you do without for the sake of the earth, but there are things that you can do to ease your imprint.

Next time you want to trade in your current music platform, instead of rushing to the Apple store to purchase an ungodly overpriced iPod, why don’t you purchase a recycled one instead? And if you are feeling particularly generous, maybe you could walk or ride your bike to make the purchase, instead of driving your car?  Yes my friends: every iPod comes with a consequence, but with new technology and a greater awareness, there comes hope for a greener future.

-Jaclyn Bauman

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