A massive increase in K-pop CD sales is harming the environment in Korea as discarded CDs fill up landfills with plastic waste, a Korean environmental group warned this week.
The group cited a study by the Korea Consumer Agency where 53% of K-pop fans said they buy CDs only to collect the accompanying album merchandise and not to actually listen to the music. This resulted in discarded and hard-to-recycle plastic records piling up in landfills.
In a statement Wednesday, the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement called on the government to enact legislation to address the issue and reduce CD waste.
Despite digital streaming becoming a prominent force in music consumption, the sales of physical CDs in Korea increased from 25 million in 2019 to 77 million in 2022, according to the Korea Consumer Agency.
A contributing factor to the booming sales could be K-pop record labels' strategy to package CD albums with exclusive merchandise like photo cards, posters, stickers, etc, thus incentivizing fans who want to collect more merch to buy more physical albums.
For example, album packages for the latest album from K-pop boy band Seventeen include a photo book, lyric book, stickers, a random bookmark out of 13 possible options, and two randomly selected photo cards out of a possible 26. With a CD, of course.
The Korea Federation for Environmental Movement said that it many cases the the physical CDs are thrown out. The group urged record labels to change their marketing practices that promote overconsumption and plastic waste.
The View From The U.S.
About 33.4 million CDs were sold in the U.S. in 2022, down from 47.5 million in 2019, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. They made up just 11.8% of the albums sold last year.
(Vinyl sales, however, have continued to steadily rise in the U.S. year-over-year since 2006.)
Bundling merchandise with album sales became a popular practice in recent years as a way of boosting chart performance — until Billboard changed its rules in 2020 to exclude merch and ticket bundles from its tally of album sales.