Environmentally Friendly CDs

March 03, 1992

Ever since digital compact discs began replacing vinyl records as the principal format for home stereo systems, groups like the Sierra Club have warned that the unnecessarily long cardboard and plastic display boxes in which the discs are packaged pose a threat to the environment.

Last month, the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents companies that produce and distribute 95 percent of the recorded music sold in the U.S., finally heeded those complaints. It promised to cease marketing CDs in the long boxes by April 1993 and agreed to adopt packaging no bigger than the 5-by-5.5 inch plastic container that holds the disk.

Some 300 million CDs are sold in the U.S. each year. Most are sold in display boxes, meant to be thrown away after purchase, that are about twice as long as the small plastic case that holds the disc itself. Thus the long boxes account for millions of pounds of unnecessary waste each year that wind up in already overtaxed landfills. Environmental groups say two of every five pounds of all garbage in the U.S. are cardboard and other paper products.

The record industry at first resisted the change because of fears the smaller boxes would be easier to shoplift and because retailers would have to make costly modifications to the display racks from which CDs are sold. But when some music industry stars, including singers Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley and the group R.E.M., also began insisting that their recordings be packaged in smaller boxes, record executives started exploring alternatives.

Downsizing the size of CD packaging won't make the nation's solid waste disposal problem disappear. But it is an excellent example of the kind of voluntary effort at self-restraint by industry that can make a big difference. As Sierra Club executive Daniel J. Weiss put it at the news conference where the announcement was made, "Eliminating the long box is music to our ears."

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