Eco-Friendliness of Downloading Music and Movies

February 2, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

CD NO MORE: Buy tunes with your ITunes music card download to your computer, and listen with your iPod Nano. No packaging, no shipping, no waste.    (Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images)
CD NO MORE: Buy tunes with your ITunes music card download to your computer, and listen with your iPod Nano. No packaging, no shipping, no waste. (Robert Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images)
For the past century, music and movies have been a huge part of American pop culture. People have always been trying to make these things their own and continue to seek out the most convenient, inexpensive, and portable ways to enjoy their favorite forms of entertainment.

Throughout the 20th century, from the Victrola and ‘45s, to eight-tracks and the first color TVs, to VCRs and the first CDs, to today, we have a seen a myriad of technologies come and go. Their rise and fall from popularity fuels our continuous search for more. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, the toll our industry and technology has taken on the planet is becoming more and more measurable, observable—and evident.

Unfortunately, entertainment through movies and music has played its role. This presents a dilemma. Our movies and music are just as much a part of American culture as baseball and hamburgers. How can people continue to enjoy music and movies without allowing them to contribute to the negative impact technology and industry has had on the environment?

Specifically, how have movies and music played a negative role? Actually, the content of the films and musical works themselves is really dependent of the production company and the individuals involved in their making. So, whether or not music or movies send a positive or negative message or whether or not many resources were consumed in the production of such entertainment really varies from movie to movie and album to album.

The Problem With Changing Tecnology

In the past, there was very little one could do, as an individual consumer, to offset any negative environmental impact caused by the entertainment industry other than boycotting it. The area where movies and music have hurt the environment the most are in their packaging and delivery.

For example, the first TV sets and record players were big and bulky. Many resources were consumed in the production, packaging, and transportation of these goods. We have seen media become smaller and smaller and more and more portable. But whether it was the records and tapes of the past, or the CDs and DVDs of today and the machines required to use them, there is still an unnecessarily vast amount of packaging material used and an enormous amount of resources consumed in the transportation of the goods.

We should also mention that all of these things, including the modern devices, will not last forever. So, do we fill our houses and landfills with piles of obsolete junk that is not biodegradable? They can, of course, be reused until they can’t be reused anymore, but there would eventually be a limit, and then what?

The ideal situation would be to somehow recycle these things or have them re-made. Most people, though, would not think it's worth their time and energy to do this. It is simply more practical to just buy a new gadget or device and throw away the old. But, in fact, it is not as simple as tossing one item in the trash.

For example, tape players have been obsolete since the marketing of CDs began. So, once the old tape player was disposed of, all those tapes would have had to go too. Even if they were given away, it would have only postponed their being thrown out. So, it wasn’t simply the case of only one thing needing to be dealt with.

Then if we take into consideration the total number of people in America alone who have owned records, tapes, CDs, and DVDs—and the playing devices for each of them—it's an unimaginable, uncountable number of inevitably useless pieces of metal and plastic. If these items are not disposed of properly when the day comes, they may take a heavy toll on the environment.

Nowadays there are more and more people, companies, and organizations placing an emphasis on the environment and creating products and services that have little or no negative effect on it. But the overall trend is that, environmentally speaking, things are still headed downhill. Sometimes, living green may seem discouraging in the same way that healthy eating can be. For example, people who diet often wonder, “Why do the things I enjoy the most have to be the worst for me?” The same is true for living green, in the sense that the things many people enjoy doing, or are in the habit of doing, are environmentally damaging and oftentimes self-damaging on top of that. Fortunately, in the case of movies and music, there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel.

A Modern Solution

A product of modern times is the advent of downloading from the Internet. Of course, we are only referring to legal forms of downloading materials. Throughout our recent history of marketed entertainment and portable media, this may be one thing that the entertainment industry has gotten right in terms of eco-friendliness.

It may or may not have been their intention, but either way, downloadable music and movies, as opposed to discs you would buy in a store or have shipped to you, requires no packaging and no transportation. Additionally, there are virtually no raw materials or resources consumed in the items' production, packaging, or shipment. Furthermore, there is nothing to throw away.

A common argument against downloadable entertainment is that certain songs and movies are not available to download and are only accessible through older platforms. This is probably true for some who have very particular tastes, but generally speaking, many of the online services from which movies and music can be downloaded tend to have impressive libraries that are always being updated.

The reality is that there are some songs on LPs which may never be marketed in MP3 format or some movies on 8mm that may never make it to Blueray. However, there are many technology-driven people who are doing this independently. There are also businesses that will digitally convert all of your movies and music to the current modern platform for a modest fee.

If you’ve been living green for a while or you are new to it, you can relax in knowing that one of the popular modern ways of obtaining and enjoying your favorite movies and songs is not killing the planet. So, feel free to download to your heart’s content. You may have to pay attention to the legalities involved and be wary of Internet security. Other than that, it is a relatively fast, safe, easy—and environmentally friendly—means of entertainment.