LISTENING to music has never been cheaper but its environmental costs have never been higher, according to a new report.

Researchers in Glasgow and Oslo have found that streaming music online is not as environmentally friendly as is often assumed.

Their Cost of Music report, published today, shows how the economic costs of recorded music consumption have steadily fallen in recent decades while its carbon emissions costs have soared.

“From a plastic pollution perspective, the good news is that overall plastic production in the recording industry has diminished since the heyday of vinyl,” said Dr Kyle Devine, an associate professor in music from the University of Oslo.

“From a carbon emissions perspective, However, the transition towards streaming recorded music from internet-connected devices has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music.”

At the peak of the LP’s popularity in 1977, the recording industry used 58 million kilograms of plastic, rising to 61m kgs of plastic at the peak of CD sales in the year 2000.

When downloading and streaming took over, the amount of plastic used by the recording industry dropped dramatically to around 8m kgs in the US alone by 2016.

“These figures seem to confirm the widespread notion that music digitalised is music dematerialised,” said Devine. “The figures may even suggest that the rises of downloading and streaming are making music more environmentally friendly.

“But a very different picture emerges when we think about the energy used to power online music listening. Storing and processing music online uses a tremendous amount of resources and energy – which has a high impact on the environment.”

If the production of plastics and the generation of electricity for storing and transmitting digital audio files is translated into greenhouse gas equivalents (GHGs) the figure soars from vinyl’s peak to the time of online music listening.

Before online music the top figure was 157m kgs of GHGs in 2000.

However, storing and transmitting digital files for music online is estimated to be between 200 and 350m kgs of GHGs in the US alone by 2016.

Meanwhile, what consumers will pay for the luxury of recorded music has changed dramatically.

Consumers were willing to pay roughly 4.83% of an average weekly salary in vinyl’s peak year of production in 1977, a price which slips down to roughly 1.22% of an average weekly salary in 2013, the peak of digital album sales.

“We hope the findings might encourage change toward more sustainable consumption choices and services that remunerate music creators while mitigating environmental impact,” said Dr Matt Brennan, reader in popular music from the University of Glasgow.

The research collaboration is in tandem with a multimedia art project in which Brennan, under the artist pseudonym Citizen Bravo, has released an album called Build A Thing Of Beauty, the sole physical copy of which exists as an interactive musical sculpture.

The research is also part of The Cost of Music, a short documentary film which will be screened at music conferences in the UK, US, Canada and Australia in the next few months.

Brennan will be giving a public lecture, album launch, and film screening discussing the research at the University of Glasgow Concert Hall on Thursday, April 11 in the run-up to worldwide Record Store Day on Saturday.