Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 27, 2024
Buying plastic

Very often in life, reality is rather complex on any issue, and people instead grab for extremely simplified representations of that reality, which are ultimately wrong. One of these issues is packaging. It is possible to make complete life cycle analyses of any packaging solution, trying to find the ecological optimum. Because that is too complicated, most people are only able to retain the simplified version "plastic bad, glass and paper good". And even companies that have the scientific and technological knowledge to know in which cases plastic is actually a better packaging solution than glass or paper, are now frequently forced to use glass or paper, because of this wrong public perception. The public is simply unaware of how much waste is produced in the Kraft process to make paper, or how much more energy intensive (and thus carbon emitting) melting glass is than melting plastic. That is not to say that plastic is always the best packaging solution, but that the matter is complex, and *sometimes* plastic does less harm to the environment than glass or paper. The issue is further complicated by human criminal behavior, where waste is dumped into oceans. Everybody has seen the image of the seahorse carrying a cotton bud; I don't know how we got from there to making plastic cotton buds illegal, instead of enforcing rules that make it illegal to dump waste into oceans.

I bought another board game last week: Daybreak (English title) or e-mission (German title). I bought it, because it was nominated by the "Spiel des Jahres" jury as one of three "Kennerspiel des Jahres". That is to say that it is a bit more advanced than the more family-friendly basic games of the main award, more suitable for experienced board gamers, while still not being a really heavy game for experts. I've been buying more games of about that weight this year, because they are usually quite suitable for the board game nights in my friendly local games store, with respect to both length of time needed to explain and to play. Now Daybreak/e-mission is a game about global warming, and how to collectively overcome the challenge of climate change. And the recommendation of the award jury turned out to be a good one, it is a very nice cooperative game with good player interaction and flow. But because the theme of the game is so eco-friendly, the makers of the game decided to not use any plastic for the game. Well, no visible plastic, I'm pretty sure the cards are plastic-coated, because they are as smooth as any other game's cards. As a result, the game comes only with a few thin cardboard dividers, which do a horrible job of storing the game, especially if you transport it. There are no plastic bags to put tokens in. And annoyingly the game box is glued shut with paper stickers, which unlike plastic stickers can't be removed without falling to pieces and the broken seal remaining ugly on the box.

In the end, I bought a plastic organizer box to sort the different tokens of my ecological game. Transparent plastic boxes which can be closed for transport and used as token trays during gameplay are simply the best solution for this specific task. The open box the game came in just results in a huge mess when transporting the game, and even smaller cardboard boxes with a lid would be less convenient and more expensive than a plastic organizer "tackle box". And this isn't single use plastic, the game might stay like this in my collection for decades, and will hopefully never end up in an ocean. I'm pretty certain the decision to make this game "no plastic" has zero actual ecological impact, but just makes the default storage solution look too cheap and impractical for a 70 Euro game. Worst of all, I'm sure the makers of the game are feeling really good about their bad packaging decisions, all smug and morally superior.

Tobold: "[...] instead of enforcing rules that make it illegal to dump waste into oceans."

Because life is complex and only few people carry their cotton buds to the nearest shore to dispose of them.

That one the seahorse had? Maybe it fell from a ship that was carrying trash from the West to Asia so we don't have to deal with it. Maybe it was in a landfill and some animal carried it away. Maybe it got dumped somewhere, was then washed into some stream and then carried to the ocean.

And banning cotton buds fully ensures that no (new) cotton buds can end up in the ocean.
Is that the best solution? Maybe not but it is also good PR.
instead of enforcing rules that make it illegal to dump waste into oceans. because they already are in place and still waste keeps ending up in the ocean.
But that's the wrong question, the right one is: why choose a material which has the excellent property of being very stable, non-degradable and this lasting centuries and build with it a SINGLE-USE ITEM?

BTW for your boardgame boxes, the wooden ones work as well and look way better than the plastic ones.
The cynic in me reads this story and immediately questions whether this company chose to not use plastic to remain true to an eco friendly message or because it was cheaper to produce the way they did it.

Much like Apple not including charger bricks with phones supposedly for e-waste reasons but then turn around and make more boxes and packaging to sell you the same charger separately, I can't help but think all these companies are using the eco movement as a mask to squeeze more profit out of the stone.
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