There are many ways to upcycle an old vinyl record: melt it into a bowl shape for your chips, turn it into a clock, make a funky dreamcatcher, or add a little pedestal and voila! You’ve got a cupcake stand. But in terms of recycling vinyl, it’s a little hairier.
PVC (poly vinyl chloride), the plastic from which records are made, isn’t totally environmentally friendly. But some artists are looking for ways to morph the process.
The famously eco-aware Coldplay released their Oct ’21 album Music of the Spheres on an alloy dubbed “recycled splatter vinyl”, and Bristol punk-rockers IDLES latest album Crawler is about to land in “eco-mix” vinyl. But artists’ eyes have been on this idea for a while: in 2019 Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey released his single In the Anthropocene on a world-first format called “ocean vinyl”, made entirely from recycled plastic gathered from the waters off the UK‘s southern coast.
“We had fishing nets, fishing line, candy wrappers, potato chip bags,” Mulvey said at the time. “It was rubbish. Trash.” But through compressing all those different raw materials, Florida company Tangible Formats was able to create 100 visually gorgeous pressings of the single.
But there‘s one very important angle to vinyl records that sets them apart from other plastics. In a BBC report from earlier this year, Dr Sharon George – senior lecturer in Environment and Sustainability at Keele University in Staffordshire – said that what makes records more ecologically sound than you’d think is the fact they’re “non-disposable” products. “We have this relationship with [records] like no other form of plastic,“ she said. “Vinyl records come under that category of things that we will keep for years and years, and even pass on to our children and grandchildren.
“As long as we treasure vinyl and it is priced accordingly, it actually stands up quite well against digital forms of music, such as streaming and downloading, in terms of sustainability.”