ENVIRONMENT: Does vinyl really need to be plastic shrink-wrapped?

While I’m not exactly a tree hugger, a subject dear to me is waste. Having previously worked in the packing industry, and fruitlessly smashed my social responsibility hammer against the brick wall of corporate profit, I gave up and started skratchworx. And while some industries press the environmentally friendly button, the DJ industry has been a tad quiet in this respect. This is something I plan to address, starting today.

In the last few weeks, plastic waste has been a hot news topic. Governments and industries have made noises about reducing or eliminating the mountains of plastic the ends up on the oceans, possibly so the share price doesn’t get hit too hard. And around this time, a discussion popped up on my Face timeline. Sy Matic from Cut & Paste Records asked a question about plastic shrink sleeves on vinyl. Apparently he’s been asked by distributors to make sure that every release is sealed before delivery. But he just sees it, quite rightly, as waste.

ENVIRONMENT: Does vinyl really need to be plastic shrink-wrapped?

Why seal?

In all honestly, after digging around the net, I’m still not 100% sure. It started back in the 60s, and the first obvious reason would be to protect the vinyl in transit and in store. If vinyl is sealed, it stops the great unwashed from pawing the press-fresh vinyl. It also has the secondary purpose of stopping people buying, recording, and returning purchases.

So I get why shops and distributors would want sealed copies. But the seal delivers more something for vinyl collectors old and new. It’s the guarantee that the copy you’re getting on Discogs has never been played, touched, or otherwise gouged at by invading needles. It is the assurance of being worth more, often exponentially more. It stops being VG or NM — it’s a physical force field that ensures a mint copy. And if it has original stickers on that cannot be replaced on a dodgy reseal, then even better.


If you’re a DJ, you buy vinyl to use. It is a tool, a consumable to be employed like any other. That seal comes off the minute it’s home, gets thrown in the bin, and possibly ends up strangling the intestines of a dolphin in the Maldives, or choking a puffin on a cliff face.

Collectors however crave the seal. It’s staying put and never coming off while they draw breath, or at least while they own that vinyl anyway. I stupidly used to buy vinyl and keep it sealed, until a few years ago I read this:

“Everyone knows that vinyl sounds better sealed”

There it is — the stupidity of keeping vinyl safely wrapped in its cardboard coffin. Music is to be played and loved, and ideally passed onto the next generation.

If you keep vinyl sealed for value reasons, then you’re just stockpiling cardboard and plastic and using it as some sort of future currency, and as badge of honour. You’re doing it wrong. That said, breaking the seal on my DJ Rectangle box set is proving hard to do. So believe me, I do get it.

Here’s the thing — plastic film is something that gets thrown in the bin, ending up in landfill, and will survive you, me, and many generations of our families. You’ve seen the waste mountain in Idiocracy right? That. But depending on where you live, it can be recycled. Sadly, my local council classes it as “low grade waste” and refuses to take it because it gets tangled up in recycling machines. But a cursory dig around the net shows that other councils are more accepting, and environmentally responsible.

But if it’s tricky to recycle, then it’s polluting the planet. And even if it can be recycled, we must ask ourselves if we need it in the first place. Making plastic film is not exactly helping the planet.

ENVIRONMENT: Does vinyl really need to be plastic shrink-wrapped?
Back on the shelf, still sealed. I chickened out. Besides, I have most of the box as separate LPs anyway. And staying wrapped means less environmental waste right?

Break the seal — and the cycle

One thing is clear from my research — it seems that the majority of record buyers remove the plastic seal immediately, choosing instead to let their vinyl go commando, or more likely safely store their purchase in a looser thicker PVC sleeve.

But having stated that I totally understand why the seal is in place, it’s up to us to make a stand. You need to ask yourself if you as the end user really need that seal. As a record shop owner, is it vital for you to have sealed records? Is there an alternative that gives you what the plastic seal delivers? A tamper proof clear disk sticker over the edge of the sleeve perhaps? A removable sealed flap on the sleeve itself? A perforated inner paper sleeve? There are definitely alternatives that don’t require tons of plastic waste pollution.


When you buy vinyl, do you leave the seal untouched? Break the seal but leave it on? Or do you break your purchase free from its plastic straight jacket immediately? Do you just throw that plastic away or recycle it? Or would you be happy to never see a plastic seal ever again?