Discs vs. data: Are we helping the environment by streaming?

Image of a pile of DVDs

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Earth Day was April 22nd, and its usual message—take care of our planet—has been given added urgency by the challenges highlighted in the latest IPCC report. This year, Ars is taking a look at the technologies we normally cover, from cars to chipmaking, and finding out how we can boost their sustainability and minimize their climate impact.

Gone are the days of going to Blockbuster to pick out a film for a night in. Physical media like CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, Sony’s weird PlayStation Portable UMDs, and countless other formats have been thoroughly dethroned thanks to a barrage of streaming services like Netflix— itself ailing at the moment—Amazon Prime, and Spotify.

For the first time in the past 17 years, CDs saw an increase in sales—of 1 . 1 percent , or 40. 59 million units in 2021, compared to 40. 16 million units the year prior. In 2021, people purchased 1. 2 billion pieces of physical video media, compared to 6. 1 billion a decade prior. Meanwhile, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, revenue from music loading grew 13. 4 percent to $10. 1 billion in 2020.

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