Eco Friendly CD Packaging

In the digital era less CDs are being made, but they certainly still have their place.

If you are going to print CDs, some ways are greener than others.

CDs are the second biggest source of pollution in the music industry.

Using card-based packaging instead of plastic cases reduces this pollution by 95%.

Intro – Plastic Vs Card

The second biggest source of pollution in the music industry comes from CDs (the biggest polluter being audience travel).

Environmentalists and scientists have therefore been trying to find ways to minimise the effects of CD packaging on the environment, and it turns out the best approach is changing what’s IN the packaging itself.

Using card CD packaging instead of plastic cases reduces CD pollution by 95%.

CDs (“compact discs”) are made from optical grade polycarbonate (OGP). OGP can’t contain recycled content, as the plastic has to be extremely pure for a laser to read the disc. However the disc replication and materials are only a small percentage of the pollution associated with a CD- it’s the packaging that causes most of the pollution.

Commissioned by Julie’s Bicycle, a leading environmental consultancy group called Arup undertook a detailed study into the emissions saving potential from switching from plastic jewel cases to card-based packaging. Their research concluded that the switch could reduce packaging emissions by 95%. Even a Digipack (card wallet with plastic tray) reduces packaging emissions by at least 60%.

Using recycled cardboard CD packaging reduces these emissions even further, and the price of recycled CD packaging is dropping every day ( provides a full range of recycled CD packaging options).

Furthermore, a detailed study carried out by the ERA (Entertainment Retail Association) shows that more than half of music consumers actually prefer card to “easily-breakable” plastic.

Card CD packaging also means less travel emissions. Since card packaging is lighter, printers can save money on shipping costs and significantly reduce their carbon emissions.

The best thing the recording industry can do to reduce pollution is to start using card CD packaging.

“Moving to a pure card option would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 95%… Moving to a combined card and plastic option would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over two-thirds.” – Julie’s Bicycle, February 2009

Types of Plastic CD Packaging

  • Traditional Jewel Case– A “jewel case” is the traditional plastic CD case used for albums. Jewel cases are usually made from polystyrene, which is extremely hard to recycle. Additionally, they usually include a paper inlay beneath the disc tray, and a paper booklet at the front.
    “An individual (plastic) CD album creates at least 1 kg CO2e.” – Consumer Research Study into CD Packaging, Catherine Bottrill and Vishnu Ganglani
  • Slimline Jewel Case– “Slimline” cases are a thinner version of the traditional jewel cases. They are most commonly used to release EP’s and singles. Because slimline cases uses less raw material to make, and result in less shipping emissions because of the reduced weight, they’re environmental performance is better than that of the traditional jewel case. However the lifecycle of a slimline jewel case still releases significant emissions.
  • Polypropylene Jewel Case– Although jewel cases are traditionally made from polystyrene, a few company’s use “polypropylene” which is slightly easier to recycle.
  • Plastic Sleeve- Thin plastic sleeve, generally used for Demo’s and promotional releases.

Types of Cardboard CD Packaging

  • Digipack- A foldout card wallet with a moulded plastic tray.


  • Foldout wallet (Gatefold wallet)- A foldout wallet is similar to a digipak, but has a pocket instead of a plastic tray, so it uses no plastic parts at all- making it 100% recyclable.


  • Card CD Sleeve– Card sleeves are the lightest and cheapest option, and are mostly used for promotional CDs. They are usually slightly smaller than card wallets.


  • Recycled CD Packaging– The best option of all is recycled CD packaging. All Austep Music CD wallets come with 70% recycled card.


Printing and Finishing

Traditional inks are made of colour pigments, which are mixed with a petroleum based liquid, and a binding agent. The petrol/alcohol content then evaporates during the drying process, releasing harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the air. Traditional inks also contain heavy metals (e.g. barium, copper, zinc) that can leach into soil and groundwater. Solvent based varnishes should be avoided too as these also emit VOCs.

The more environmentally friendly alternative is vegetable based ink. It takes slightly longer to dry, but is becoming an industry standard. The most common being soy & linseed based inks (this is what we use for Austep Music printing). Almost every colour can now be done with vegetable based ink, with a few exceptions such as metallic colours.

Regardless of whether you use card or plastic based packaging, you don’t need to over-do it. For instance plastic wrapping (“shrink-wrap” or “cello-wrap”) will add weight to your product meaning more shipping emissions (not to mention the energy/resources used to create the plastic), and a “Matt” or “Gloss” coat on your packaging means the cardboard is much harder to recycle.


The best thing the recording industry can do to reduce pollution is to start using card CD packaging, resulting in a 95% reduction of CD packaging emissions. Choosing recycled card will further reduce this pollution. The most eco friendly option is to use locally made post consumer recyled card.

As more and more major artists turn to environment friendly cd packaging, prices continue to drop. Some printers such as Austep Music are already offering recycled card packaging for the same price as plastic cases, and in many ‘cases’ card packaging is actually cheaper.


About the Author:
Austep Music provides CD replication, and printing for the Australian Music Industry.

A key player in the Green Music Movement, Austep Music specialises in eco-friendly card CD packaging, and is a founding partner of the Australian Green Music Coalition. All Austep Music CD replication jobs are printed with 80% recycled card and vegetable based ink, at no extra cost to you, and we plant a native tree for each job we print.