The Sustainable Packaging Working Group (SPWG) sought to identify effective solutions for both plastic and paperboard based packaging of optical Disc media, recognizing that different modalities of each can be further developed to yield greater environmental benefits.
The SPWG, comprised of representatives of the record labels, music retailers and industry vendors together with the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), have released the report that provides an extensive array of options for both resin-based and paperboard packaging, printed inserts, and other materials such as adhesives, inks, clarifiers, stiffeners, etc., and describes their respective environmental attributes.
The group is seeking for viable alternatives to current resin-based (plastic) and paperboard CD packaging that will: decrease use of fossil fuels - and require less energy consumption overall, yield a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions throughout the product life cycle, promote greater use of replenishable and recyclable resources, and reduce the industry's toxicological impacts on human health and the environment.
Product options were weighed against the need to assure efficient handling on equipment currently in use, product reliability, cost effectiveness, and value and aesthetic appeal to the performing artists and consumers.
The CD packaging options considered quantitatively in the study include conventional polystyrene jewel case; alternative polypropylene jewel case;
conventional 6-panel paperboard package (a "soft pack" or "folded sleeve"), evaluated for both virgin and 100% recycled content feedstock). In addition, a number of alternative packaging materials were considered qualitatively, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) jewel cases, polylactic acid (PLA, a bio-based material) jewel cases, and 4-panel digipaks (a hybrid paper-plastic package).
Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions were cited by SPWG members as the most pressing environmental concern for their companies.
Ecotoxicity, or the degree to which chemicals released over the life cycle of CD packaging affect living organisms, was also evaluated quantitatively. For all CD packaging options, the largest contributor to ecotoxicity was fossil fuels, through processing as feedstock material in plastics, combustion for electricity and heat, and the eventual incineration of the fuel embodied in plastic. Recycling was only significant in decreasing ecotoxicity impacts for paper products, reflecting the much higher recycling rates for paper over plastic in the U.S.
Of the materials considered for CD packaging, the feedstock for PVC packaging, vinyl chloride monomer, has the strongest positive association with health hazards, including cancer, neurotoxicity and damaging liver effects in humans. Dioxins and furans, which can be produced when chlorine-containing materials such as PVC or bleached paper are burned, also have very serious documented health effects.
Based on the full report to enhance the sustainability of CD packaging, a number of recommendations are presented:
- Minimize the weight of all packaging components to the extent possible.
- Replace polystyrene with polypropylene.
- Consider the environmental trade-offs associated with moving from polymers to paperboard packaging. Maximize the recycled content of paperboard packaging, as this has a much lower impact across all categories, than paperboard from virgin sources. Use FSC- or SFI-certified wood wherever possible.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of PVC in jewel cases or plastic film.
- Consider the use of PLA, particularly for CD trays in digipak-style packages.
- Ask suppliers for paperboard packaging designs that are stiff enough to be processed in an over-wrapping machine, as opposed to being shrink-wrapped.
- All inks used by suppliers and printers in the industry should adhere to CONEG or similar regulations certifying a minimal level of cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, and lead. Depending on brightness and color requirements, vegetable- or soy-based inks should be considered wherever possible.
- Moving from plastic to paperboard CD packaging will necessitate increases use of adhesives, to fasten paperboard front-to-back, affix liner notes, and/or affix plastic CD hubs in the base of digipak-style packages. Low- or no-VOC adhesives that do not contain any known carcinogens should be pursued wherever possible.
- Investigate the required strength of bonds for paperboard packaging and stickers, and avoid the use of unnecessarily strong adhesives, as these tend to have proportionally higher environmental impacts.
- For all packaging options, and especially the plastic jewel cases, materials should be clearly identified and labeled for proper end of life handling including recycling.
- Minimize the number of materials used in a single jewel case.
- Consider offering carbon offsets to those customers who would like to address the greenhouse gas impacts of their music and its packaging.
However, the music merchandising industry faces difficult choices in balancing packaging innovations and economic viability. Declining revenues will make it difficult for many companies to adapt their practices for producing physical media, such as purchasing new automated packaging equipment that can deal with alternative packaging types.
With the advent of digital music and the internet, the music industry has been changing dramatically. Economic pressures on the major companies are complex and intense. CDs made up more than 80% of the global market in 2006, but the sales volume of physical media fell by 21% in 2007 compared with the previous year, and downloads of digital music have not been able to substitute for these losses.
A carbon tax would put further pressure on music merchandisers, as the prices of raw materials and energy would increase.