Life Cycle of a Compact Disc (DC)


23 Mar 2015 15 Dec 2017

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CD's have become an essential item in everybody's life. Despite its simple structure, it allows you to listen hours of music, to watch films on a player as well as to store a huge amount of information. For all these reasons, CD's consumption has increased in the last few years. That's way a compact disc is an important matter of analysis in terms of life cycle and environmental footprint.

In this essay I'll discuss the main points on the life cycle of this product from its creation to the final stage of its life.


CDs are made of many different materials. The main of them are: aluminum, polycarbonate, lacquer, gold, dyes and some other materials such as water, glass, silver and nickel.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust but the common aluminum is not economic sources of the metal. That's why almost all metallic aluminum is produced from ore bauxite. Smelting of the ore occurs in different countries than the mining activity, so it involves its transportation.

Polycarbonate is a type of plastic which is made from crude oil and natural gas extracted from the Earth. Lacquer is made of acrylic, another type of plastic. Gold is straight mined from the Earth. Dyes are chemicals made in laboratory, partially from petroleum products that come from the Earth.

Mining is a key process at this point of the life cycle as it supposes the obtaining of the necessary raw materials that will make up the CD. All mining process involves the use of machinery such as trucks and excavator. Those vehicles consume energy and release CO2 emission to the atmosphere.

In this stage, proposing any improvement is difficult as nowadays there is no other way of getting raw materials from Earth's crust but by means of excavators.


Materials acquisition is not the previous step to the manufacturing process. Most mined materials must be processed before manufacturers can use them to make CDs.

As I mentioned before, bauxite ore is processed into a substance called “alumina” by washing, crushing, dissolving, filtering, and harvesting the materials. Alumina is then turned into aluminum through a process called “smelting.” Then the metal is shaped, rolled, or made into a cast. Regarding this material process, it has to be taken into account the fact that larger deposits of bauxite occur in certain countries and its processing takes place in different points of the world. This implies transportation from one place to the other and its consequent CO2 emissions.

To make plastics, crude oil is extracted from the ground and combined with natural gas and chemicals in a manufacturing or processing plant. In some cases, burning plastics as part of a process can release toxic fumes. Moreover, the manufacturing of plastic often creates large quantities of chemical pollutants.

In order to determine the carbon footprint due to all those material processes, we have to take into account the energy consumed in manufacturing and processing plant. Energy consumption is kept at a high level as smelting and some chemical processes require a huge amount of energy to be accomplished.


The manufacturing process of a CD is complex. An injection molding machine creates the core of the disc, a 1-millimeter thick piece of polycarbonate (plastic). Polycarbonate is melted and poured in a mold. Then, with the aid off high pressure, a stamper embeds tiny indentations, or pits, with digital information into the plastic mold. Those indentations or pits will be read by a laser when playing a CD. Therefore, it is an accurate process and it involves some specialized tools and machines.

Then, the so-called process “sputtering” takes places. Through it, the “metallizer” machine coats the CDs with a thin metal reflective layer (usually aluminum). The playback laser reads the information off of the reflective aluminum surface.

In order to protect the CD against scratching and corrosion, it receives a layer of lacquer as a protecting coating.

Most CDs are screen printed with one to five different colors for a decorative label. Screen printing involves the use of many materials, including stencils, queegees, and inks.

In the manufacturing process, a considerable amount of environmental aggressive products are used such as lacquer and inks.


CDs are packaged in clear or colored plastic cases or cardboard boxes that are then covered with plastic shrink wrap. This packaging can be made from recycled or raw materials. For example, the plastic used can be from recycled bottles or from crude oil and natural gas extracted from the Earth and combined with chemicals.

Manufacturing cardboard require cutting trees down. This is an important and aggressive action against the environment and therefore, it has to be taken into account when evaluating the environmental cost of packaging CDs.


The transportation supposes a considerable contribution to carbon footprint. Once discs are packaged, they are sent to all parts in the world where they are distributed. Transportation by plane, truck, or rail requires the use of fossil fuels for energy, which contribute to climate change. Moreover, manufacturing plants usually are located in underdeveloped countries due to economic reasons whereas the main consumption of this product is registered in developed countries. This involves long transport distances and then important CO2 emissions.


CDs are created with materials that are extremely stable. If properly stored and handled, most discs will last for decades. Certain conditions, such as high humidity, or extended periods of high temperatures, rapid temperature changes, and exposure to certain types of light, can damage discs and shorten their useful life. Keeping discs out of direct sunlight and away from heat and water will help them last longer.

Following those easy instructions not only will save money, but it will also reduce the discs' environmental impacts by preventing waste.

From my point of view, this stage has an important meaning in terms of waste minimization. Our CDs' consumption rate would decrease significantly if handling them properly. Making the useful life longer involves reducing all the process previous to the use, and so reducing the carbon footprint generated by the processing, manufacturing, transport process, etc.


In order to reduce the discs' environmental impacts, the disposal must be seen as the last option. Depending on their condition, discs can be reused or recycled instead of thrown away.


A good way to keep discs out of the garbage is to reuse them. In this sense, one of the reasons why we get rid of discs is scratches. Minor scratches can be repaired by rubbing a mild abrasive (such as toothpaste) on the non-label side of a disc in a circular motion from the center out. Also, some commercial refinishers can inexpensively repair your CDs.

Another main reason is that the disc is not longer wanted. Unwanted CDs or can be sold to some stores, traded with friends, or donated to schools, libraries, or other organizations. Buying used CDs borrowing them from the library can also help reduce the environmental impact associated with manufacturing new products.

In my opinion this is the better alternative to disposal because unlike recycling, reusing doesn't involve any manufacturing or smelting process. Therefore less energy will be consumed resulting in a lower carbon footprint.


CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, jewel cases.

Most CD recycling companies only accept large stockpiles of old, damaged, or unused from businesses. A few companies will accept smaller quantities of discs mailed by individuals. Once the recyclers receive the CDs, they separate the packaging materials, manuals, and CDs for individual recycling processes. You might consider contacting a CD recycling company on behalf of your school or school district-collecting CDs for reuse could be a good school or community fundraising project. Check your local phone book or search the Internet for a list of recyclers, and be sure to have one in place before you begin collecting CDs for recycling.

As with most stages of product life cycles, even recycling has environmental tradeoffs. CD recycling is now an emerging technology, which means that many companies are not yet capable of recycling these discs. So, while recycling CDs saves natural resources, the trade-off comes from the amount of fuel and energy that's consumed to transport discs long-distances to an appropriate recycling facility.


Only dispose of your discs when you have no other choice. Always try to share, donate, or trade your discs or drop them off at an appropriate recycling center. CDs and that are thrown away waste energy and result in lost valuable resources.


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