Over the last few years, MP3s have risen to claim victory in the musical format wars, bringing about the demise of compact discs. As digital media has consistently prevailed while proving to be cheap, convenient, and environmentally friendly, discs have gradually gone the wayside, begging the question of what will happen to all those shiny saucers and their accompanying jewel cases littering the world.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question spells problems for the environment. As it turns out, plastic jewel cases are manufactured with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a highly toxic petrochemical plastic. Workers and residents near PVC manufacturing plants exhibit increased cancer rates, and PVC is nearly impossible to recycle.

But PVC is just one of the many environmentally unfriendly components of CDs, which also consist of polycarbonate, lacquer, gold, aluminum, and chemical dyes. Because of their complicated make-up, CDs often must be sent to specialized electronics recycling centers to be properly recycled. One such company is GreenDisk, which accepts and recycles old CDs and DVDs for a processing fee, refashioning them into auto parts, street lights, office equipment, and a host of other materials.

MP3s leave a significantly smaller carbon footprint than physical discs, but their dominance may be somewhat overstated by the press. More than 193 million CDs were sold in America in 2012, despite the dramatic year by year increase in digital sales. While steps have been taken to curb the environmental impact of discs, such as eco-friendly cardboard, or “Digipak” cases, all those discs pose a serious threat to the planet.

Luckily, there are several steps consumers can take to offset the environmentally destructive powers of compact discs. Aside from recycling, old discs can be repaired. The notion that scratches and scuffs mean the end of a CDs life are exaggerated, as even deep scratches can be buffed out in order to salvage discs. Also, independent stores and online retailers will purchase used discs, while most libraries accept music and movie donations.

It is important to prevent durable compact discs - which can last for hundreds of years - from spending all that time in a landfill. When the music stops, be sure to reuse, recycle, repair, and donate those old discs.


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