If you’re a music fan with a sizeable collection of compact discs, adding to that library is threatening to become a thing of the past.

At this very moment, we’re knee-deep in the age of MP3 players and digital downloading. With digital album sales on a rise, somewhere in the three million range, sales of the once-mighty CD have been on a downward spiral for much of this decade. Estimates from Nielsen SoundScan show that CD sales have dropped to 428 million. The number of CDs sold in 2004, according to Rolling Stone magazine, was 667 million.

When the CD first rose to popularity in the 1980s, it boasted several advantages to its predecessor, the vinyl record. You could play it on multiple platforms — home stereo, computer, car stereo, portable CD players. More songs could be squeezed onto a CD. A slightly scuffed disc could still be played. Plus, there was a capability of skipping from one song to another on a CD (try finding a “shuffle” feature on a turntable).

Convenience factor and mass demand aside, the CD wasn’t wholly accepted by the public.

Environmentalists and green-conscious artists also frowned upon the CD and its packaging. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, the disc itself is comprised of materials that include aluminum, polycarbonate plastic, lacquer, gold and petroleum-based dyes.

And the plastic jewel case, which houses the CD and its accompanying oft-glossy booklet, was discovered to be non-biodegradable. Eco-friendly record label Earthology points out that when these cases are no longer needed, it either “sits … in landfills or is incinerated, which releases dioxin into the atmosphere, one of the most toxic carcinogens on the planet.” The cases themselves, Earthology continues, are “made up of 85 grams of PolyVinyl Chloride (PVC). The production of these petrochemical plastics releases dangerous toxins into the atmosphere.”

The music industry ultimately responded to the jewel-case uproar by packaging CDs in more environmentally friendly Digipaks, jewel case alternatives made of paperboard.

It’s certainly a favourite among today’s Canadian indie artists.

In the U.S., major-label Universal, for instance, manufactures CDs for Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records by using recyclable plastic CD trays. The lesser-known Earthology label use jewel cases made of 100 per cent recycled/reclaimed and use nontoxic soy inks. And Indianapolis-based Plastic Recycling Inc. actually recycles used CDs and jewel cases and ship these off to be transformed as auto parts.

The LP, limited a music medium as it is, at least is made of vinyl and housed in cardboard and paper sleeves — all recyclable. (For the, um, record, Rolling Stone reported that vinyl LP sales have surged upward — to around the 1.9 million mark.)

But unless you’re a hardcore audiophile, MP3 sound files benefit from the number that can be stored onto an MP3 player, a computer or what not. Plus, there isn’t any known stat that an MP3 can spew harmful gases into the atmosphere. So it seems the planet is spared from any further harm.

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