Why Our DVD Collections Could Be a Disaster Movie for Our Planet

New research says our movie collections could be damaging the planet, but there’s a simple way to lessen our impact: switch from DVDs to streaming our films and television series over the Internet.

The study, published in May in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, saw researchers from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory together with Northwestern University, compare the average energy use and carbon impact for video streaming with four different types of DVD consumption. Those included renting a DVD through an online store (Love Film/Amazon for instance), renting a DVD from a store, purchasing DVDs online and buying DVDs from a store.

On average, the researchers found that video streaming uses about 7.9 megajoules of energy and emits about 0.4 kilograms of CO2. Compared to traditional DVD viewing (defined as driving to the store to either rent or buy), the difference is stark with as much as 12 megajoules used and about 0.71kg of CO2 emitted. Of course, CO2 is an insulating gas that researchers say has and is contributing to rising global temperatures and the melting of the polar icecaps, among other potentially serious problems.

To be sure, streaming a film or television series is not carbon neutral, especially if you want higher quality pictures. There’s also the manufacturing cost of the machines involved in the data streaming service. But in terms of single transactions, for instance picking up the latest Spiderman film, streaming content appears to come out on top.

In fact, the researchers estimate that if everyone in the United States had shifted to streaming services in 2011, we would have saved nearly 2 billion kilograms of CO2 emissions. In addition, we could have used the around 30 petajoules of energy we would have saved to power 200,000 US households for a year.

The thing that really seems to make a difference between buying a physical copy of a DVD and streaming it isn’t the DVD itself but the trip to the store, with buying and renting DVDs through the post actually holding its own as both carbon and energy reducing. We might also point out that probably few people today are likely to go to a rental/film store solely to buy DVDs, so we could argue that viewing that as a single transaction might unfairly slant the data. However, as a general overall view, this does at least suggest one way we can change our behavior without having to completely cut back on our film and TV viewing habits.

The researchers seem to recognize that for some people who love DVDs, this research might throw up confusion akin to what we’ve already heard in other areas where there is a lot of competing information.

“It’s a modern-day equivalent of the debate about which is more environmentally sound — the disposable or the cloth diaper,” lead researcher Arman Shehabi from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, is quoted as saying.

Regardless, the researchers believe that even when it comes to streaming, we could further cut the impact of our film watching habits by urging manufacturers to improve the efficiency of the devices that we use to stream and view media. They also stress that meeting that demand now instead of later will help us minimize the impact of our future streaming habits.

“Our study suggests that equipment designers and policy makers should focus on improving the efficiency of end-user devices and network transmission energy to curb the energy use from future increases in video streaming. Such efficiency improvements will be particularly important in the near future, when society is expected to consume far greater quantities of streaming video content compared to today.”

While popular, streaming services have yet to take over the market, but analysts predict that as better quality streaming services coupled with faster and more reliable internet services begin to roll out in the market, the audience will grow.

So, does knowing that streaming might be better for the planet make you want to switch to a streaming service instead of buying a DVD? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago

no clear answer here

Celine Russo
Celine Russo3 years ago

Well, at least this cleared my doubt on whether streaming was more eco-friendly or not. Thanks.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla V3 years ago


Edo F.
Edo F3 years ago

Walk to the store...

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago


Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

Already do that. Thanks.

Claire van der Meer
Claire P3 years ago

There are some serious flaws in this article. Besides the reuse of dvds...I often get them from 2nd hand shops...I also don't use a car to get them...I walk!

Lorraine Andersen

definately something to think about.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se3 years ago


Past Member
Past Member 3 years ago

Recently I read an article on here explaining how streaming uses a ridiculous amount of energy and now you're advocating it based on how much energy it takes for people to drive to a shop (an undisclosed distance away)! Obviously people are generally going to combine their journeys and pick up a DVD while running other errands. For instance, my friend works in a DVD shop and brings them home from work - thus no extra journey is required. This 'study' might as well take into account the fuel used to deliver postal service DVDs to people's homes while ignoring the fact that many other items are also being delivered simultaneously by the same vehicle. Spurious study, to say the least. Shame on you for publicising it. Clearly from this information downloading, not streaming, is the answer!