Umbra,

I know that PVC is bad, and vinyl records are PVC (right?), but is there any harm in keeping the records I already have, or should I get rid of them? And if so, what’s the best way to do so? I’ve recently been trying to phase out any “bad” plastics, including anything that leaches, and while I understand the danger of plastic leaching chemicals into a water bottle, is there anything all that bad about playing an old vinyl record? I’ve even seen them used as fruit bowls! Is that safe? I really enjoy listening to the old-time music and have quite an extensive collection, and I love the crackle produced by little dust particles hitting the needle. It gives it a timeless sound. However, if you say they’ve gotta go, then that’s what I’ll do.

Andrew Berardy
Rochester, N.Y.

Dear Andrew,

You would throw out your entire record collection at the behest of someone you’ve never met? I don’t think that’s wise.

Reduce, reuse, relisten?

Photo: iStockphoto

The situation with your LPs is similar to the fur coat problem we encountered a few weeks back. Both are Reuse with a social dilemma attached. Vinyl is a very bad plastic for all the reasons we and others have repeatedly mentioned (dioxin, lead, poor recyclability), and I have adopted it as the Easy Plastic to Avoid. We have our little mnemonic slogan, “No Vinyl, That’s Final.”

The animal-rights people might as well have a little slogan, “We Aver: No On Fur.” My advice to the fur lady was, obey the animal-rights people if you are prepared to do so, and get rid of your fur. The fur was “vintage,” though, so no animals were killed on her recent behalf; they had been killed long ago at the hands of ye olde trappers. Similarly, no vinyl was pressed on your behalf, and digging through “vintage” records at yard sales and thrift stores produces no new vinyl.

The two problems with your vinyl records, that I can see, are in trendsetting and disposal. You may have admirers who decide to use LPs and then go buy new LPs. This is the anti-vintage-fur argument: You are making evil vinyl hip. As for disposal, when the records go in the trash, they may be incinerated or crushed and release end-of-life toxics. However, I can’t find evidence that you harm yourself or your family through playing LPs — though I personally would draw the line at vinyl fruit bowls. Can I find out if heating the vinyl enough to reform it into a bowl is harmful to the crafter or the eater? No. But from what we know about vinyl, its ability to offgas, and the poisonous additives that may or may not be in records (lead!), I’m persuaded that vinyl fruit bowls are a fun item we can do without.

The reason I will not recommend getting rid of your record collection, though, is that there is no better alternative. Fur coats are far from the only choice in winter warmth; but of the available music formats, none is particularly pure. Compact discs come packaged in vinyl and are often backed with aluminum (a resource-intensive metal). One could try to avoid owning discs, and just download digital files, but electronic music storage devices, such as mp3 players, are filled with the heavy metals that make tiny electronics possible. Maybe the anti-vinyl lobby is just less powerful than the anti-fur lobby, but I can’t work up much concern about your old records. Honestly, I wasn’t that concerned about the vintage fur, either, I was just reporting on the accepted stance. Reuse away, my friend.

Scratchily,
Umbra