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Columns > John Whitler

Published: 2007/06/25
by John Whitler

Did iTunes Help Me Reduce My Environmental Impact?

What would America be without the freedom to make most of our own choices? Where would the environmental community be today without Global Warming? We can all connect with freedom and the environment in our own way. In the environmental community and in the music world there are some choices to be made about the environment. One of the steps I recently took was to load my music collection into iTunes and to only buy music in digital formats.
It has been a year since I made this transition with my music collection. My well used and now squeaky five disc changer is lonely. In fact it is about to lose its place in my surge protector for other gadgets. When I made the move away from CDs I did so for convenience and space. I wanted to know if this transition also reduced the impact I was making on the environment. I am not smart enough, actually to not dis on myself, not patient enough at the moment to try and figure out the energy consumption caculations, but here are some thoughts about it.
Without going scientific on you all, I wanted to look at the impact of the resources involved in making, using, and eventually disposing of my music collection. An important assumption I made was that I would have a computer even if I did not have the capability of using it to manage my music collection. I did not dismiss this as a factor right away, but I was encouraged by a few interesting facts about my laptop. I was encouraged when visiting the website for manufacturer of my laptop because they provided me a great deal of information about the materials and energy use of my computer. They have made great strides in reducing the amount of lead used as well as reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally my laptop is set up with a number of energy saving features. Best of all, when I am done with this machine they will recycle it for free. Computers, hard drives, and iPods still have some environmental related issues, but I was feeling a little bit better knowing that some efforts were being made to reduce the environmental impacts.
So by no longer using CDs as my favored music media type, was I really reducing my environmental impact? The US EPA has conveniently developed this poster with the life cycle of a CD (, which shows some of the steps involved in making a CD. From the mining and processing of the raw materials, and the manufacturing and packaging of the CD, a large amount of resources are consumed, waste generated and energy used to make the CDs we listen to. Obviously by eliminating the use of CDs, I was eliminating all of the associated environmental impacts CDs have on the environment.
Without taking the environmental impacts of my decision into account ahead of time I own a laptop and an iPod and needed an external hard drive to fit my whole music and movie collection. Since I have this technology, making a trip to the store (although for me that means walking or hopping on a bus) and buying a CD is not an option I have even considered in over a year. The transition for me was a simple and rewarding process. I no longer have to deal with stacks and piles of CDs. I can get rid of my CD books and I no longer need to use some of my already cramped space for storing them.
Not everyone is going to do this and I still appreciate the occasional trip into my neighborhood music store. There is something about thumbing through shelves of CDs and supporting your local music business (Although I do not live in San Francisco, I have enjoyed my two trips to Ameoba music, which sells used CDs). On the other hand, the convenience of the internet and the ability to download virtually any music out there is incredibly powerful. I no longer have to deal with changing CDs in my antiquated disc changer, or take the time to make a mix CD when I am in the mood for variety of styles. In many ways iTunes and iPods have automated and organized our music listening experience. I probably listen to more music now than I ever have before. The instant gratification of having something right at my finger tips is incredibly powerful and has shaped my music listening experience. At the same time I have reduced my environmental impact by eliminating CDs.

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