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Life Cycle Analysis of Compact Discs

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1118 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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“Making products like CDs and DVDs consumesnatural resources, produces waste, anduses energy. CDs and DVDs are created from many different materials, including metals, plastics,and dyes. The discs are packaged in clear or colored plastic cases or cardboard boxes, wrapped inplastic, and sent to distribution centers and retail outlets around the world. If properly stored andhandled, most CDs and DVDs will last for decades, and probably centuries. Depending on theircondition, unwanted discs can be reused or recycled instead of thrown away, saving energy andvaluable resources.”(Mastny, 2004)

Kevin Ye

Environmental impacts as a result from the various stages of compact discs

Raw material extraction

First step of producing the compact discs is extraction of raw material. These raw materials include aluminum, gold, silver, nickel which required mined and refinement, as well as plastic obviously. In this step, waste produced from mining is disposed of into bodies of water. Extraction of crude oil to produce plastic (for packing and the discs itself) creates waste and toxic chemicals. (Please see Appendix)

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The energy used to acquire raw materials includes mining and extracting. Materials are extracted from the earth in the form of Bauxite ore, which has 15-20% Aluminum (0.902 J/g). The embodied energy for Aluminum is 211 GJ/ton and it includes all the energy required to make the material. The process includes ore mining, ore crushing, and ore transportation. Mining and crushing entails machinery use, which requires mechanical and electrical energy. (Liao, 2014)

In conclusion, the impact to the environment brought by producing CDs is already obvious and prominent, at both energy consumption perspective and wastes producing.


Smelting aluminum generates fluoride waste. Hydroelectric power stations release greenhouse gasses and damage the ecosystem processing in different locations contribute to waste from transportation namely greenhouse gasses.

Manufacturing and processing raw materials follow mining. First, an injection molding machine creates the core of the disk from Polycarbonate (plastic). It is then coated with aluminum and metal layers through a process called “sputtering”. After both sides of the disk are completed, they’re combined with a hot melt(specific heat capacity at 1.3 J/g). The metal is shaped and rolled. A CD/DVD undergoes a further manufacturing process which a specialized computer embeds digital information onto the disk through tiny indents made by several tons of pressure. The exterior of the DVD is then coated with a layer of lacquer, a transparent material designed to repel dust and resist fingerprints and scratch marks. Lastly, the disk is decorated with additional layers by ink for labeling or artworks (Liao, 2014). During this step, the damage to the ecosystem kept raising.


The European market for music CDs is expanding rapidly, with almost 2.9 billion compact discs produced in Western Europe in 1998. In 2000, more than 700 compact disc factories were operating worldwide (Mastny, 2004). We can see that the development of manufacturing CD and the demand kept rising worldwide. It helps the music industry and others entertainment industries to distribute all their artworks to spread around the world. However, the energy consumed by the transportation of these products is also visible. The most important thing is that, each month, more than 45 tons of CDs become obsolete-outdated, useless, or unwanted. Each year, more than 55 million boxes of software go to landfills and incinerators, and people throw away millions of music CDs (Mastny, 2004). Especially nowadays, with the development of digital music and videos, the demand directly falls. The wasted energy and produced wastes given by transporting these products are not totally paid by the market, and they are literally damaging the environment. It’s totally claimed that this industry is having a situation that supply offered is way higher than the demand from the market.

Product use

Energy is embodied in maintaining, using and reusing CD/DVDs. DVD players use 15 Watts of energy and are considered a stable product. They can last for decades when treated with care and not exposing them to humidity, extreme temperatures, and light. Energy can be conserved by reusing and maintaining CDs/DVDs (Liao, 2014).

Thus, in this stage of using the CDs or DVDs, it doesn’t consume that much of energy and produce waste.


In the past decades, most of dumped compact discs go to landfills or incinerators. However, with the CD industries receiving impacts from digital memories industries, the quantity of CD production and disposal have been reduced a lot. And apparently there are better ways of dealing with useless unwanted discs. Reuse is the best option for DVDs because it generates the least amount of waste. Unwanted DVDs can be resold, given away, or donated to schools, libraries and other organizations. Moreover, there are a lot of innovative designs such as using unwanted discs into new decorations on walls.

Synopsis about how the research has impacted my purchase decision-making

By conducting this life cycle research of CDs, I was deeply impacted. I was a collector of CD music albums. I collected more than 200 CDs in my home. I purchased CDs and DVDs by my preferences. As long as I like the music of the singer or the movie, I would definitely purchase those CDs and DVDs. However, by learning the fact that producing compact discs and disposal of them would create a huge damage to our environment, I have decided to try not to buy new CDs and DVDs anymore. I will support those amazing music or video by purchasing digital albums or watching them on paid platforms, such as Amazon.com, Netflix.



(Liao, 2014, retrieved from http://www.designlife-cycle.com/dvds/)


Liao, I. (2014). CD and DVD Embodied Energy. Retrieved from http://www.designlife-cycle.com/dvds/

Mastny, L. (2004). Good stuff? A Behind-the-Scenes Guide to the Things We Buy. CDs and DVDs. Retrieved from Blackboard provided by Amanda.


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