plastic in your consoles, computer, modem, cables, plastic is everywhere
February 16, 2020 9:46 AM   Subscribe

The inescapable impact of plastics in the video game industry [Eurogamer] Ed Annunziata loves the ocean. [...] It's an idea reflected in Annuziata's games, most notably, Ecco, his beloved series about a dolphin fighting to save the ecosystem and his species from mysterious aliens and human oppression. It is often considered one of the first environmental ocean games, but even Ecco couldn't predict the threat that would be posed by plastic pollution. "When I walk on the beach I see plastic bottles and wrappers left behind by weekend beach visitors," says Annunziata. "It's heartbreaking to see knowing that plastic trash will be floating around in the ocean for 1000 years." Plastic is a problem, and the same is true for the video game industry. Whether it's our consoles, our PCs, our game packaging, or just a water bottle you happen to throw away at a convention - it isn't solely our responsibility, but we undoubtedly bear some of the blame.”

• Here's what happens when you recycle video game plastic boxes [Eurogamer][YouTube]
“Can you bin a plastic game box and not feel like you've hurt David Attenborough in the process? Maybe you're having a clear out. Maybe you're downsizing your physical game collection now you've subscribed to Xbox Game Pass. Or maybe you have bought Stadia... Video games might be moving away from living on plastic discs in plastic boxes, but it's still a worthwhile question to ask. Helpfully, the latest video from People Make Games, presented by some guy named Chris Bratt, asks exactly that. While recycling a plastic game box is possible here in the UK, it's not obvious or particularly easy to do so - and it's clear we still have a long way to go before all waste plastic is recycled. Before it all gets too glum, here's Chris' happy face to tell you all about it.”
• Don't Throw Your Old Xbox or Playstation in the Trash [Lifehacker]
“According to one estimate, the U.S. generated 6.9 million tons of e-waste in 2016. And while your used PS4 or Xbox may not make up a significant portion of that e-waste, that doesn’t mean they’re not contributing to the problem. If you have any used gaming consoles, don’t trash them—you can likely re-sell them at any electronics store or recycle them at the very least. Before you get rid of your console, first, you should research your options to resell it, assuming the console still functions. if it’s an especially valuable console, chances are you’ll make some money in the process. [...] If a gaming console might not earn you all that much, try donating it to local organizations and charities instead. Both Gamers Outreach and Charity Nerds will accept used gaming consoles and provide them to children at hospitals during extended stays.”
• Sega Europe announces all its physical PC releases will use recyclable packaging [PC Gamer]
“Sega has announced that all of its physical PC releases in Europe will be adopting recyclable cardboard packaging. While the first game to be released since this announcement will be a re-release of Total War: Rome 2, the three-disc Total War: Rome 2 – Enemy at the Gates Edition, the move comes after Football Manager 2020 developer Sports Interactive pushed for it. The design process for the boxes took approximately six months, and he had already slipped the extra 22 cents needed to produce them versus standard plastic boxes into the studio's budget before approaching Sega with the idea. Everything but the disc itself is made from 100% recyclable and biodegradable material. Even the ink used to print the boxes and label on the disc is made from 100% vegetable and starch matter. Of course, the discs Sega use are still plastic and can't be recycled in the same way. [...] Honestly, I don't see why publishers haven't embraced biodegradable packaging sooner. Embracing eco-friendly practices is almost always guaranteed good PR, and, on a much more cynical level, having the boxes decay over time seems like an excellent way of putting a wrench in the works for the second-hand market.”
• It's Time the Games Industry Did Away With Plastic Cases [USgamer]
“Back in November, I bought a physical copy of Pokemon Shield. It was the first physical game for Switch that I had gotten since launch, and opening the case up, I was shocked: It's so wastefully packaged! The Switch cartridge is notoriously tiny, and yet, the plastic case is massive. I was bewildered at why such a tall and slender case was designed to house these small games, without even a manual of sorts inside. For a company making "an effort to reduce environmental burden by complying with the environmental laws of each country as a matter to be adhered to in the manufacture of our products," that doesn't seem to be amounting to much. The limited scope comes down to "first-party guidelines," according to a report from our sister site According to a Sega EU representative, companies are "restricted from making its own recyclable packaging for games released on PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo." It's also worth mentioning that it's 30% more expensive to make fully recycled cardboard packaging than the traditional plastic route. Meanwhile at the expense of the health of the world, it's cheaper.”
• Nintendo Switch retail boxes are an ocean of wasted space [Ars Technica]
“And when you open your first Nintendo Switch box, one thing immediately stands out: there is a lot of empty space. Of course, packaging for physical video games has always had a decent amount of empty space. Historically, that's come partly out of a desire to include large instruction booklets and supporting material, and partly it's out of a marketing desire to make the product stand out on the shelves (we're looking at you, big box PC games). That said, the Nintendo Switch packaging takes this trend to a ridiculous extreme. A Switch cartridge measures about 31mm x 21mm x 3mm, slightly smaller than a 35mm x 33mm x 4mm 3DS cartridge. That tiny Switch cartridge only takes up about 1 percent of the total volume of its game box (170mm x 104mm x 10mm). What's more, the box doesn't include any instruction booklet, registration card, legal health warning, or other materials that might make use of some of that extra space (the original Nintendo DS boxes even used some of that empty space for optional Game Boy Advance cartridge storage). This won't be true of all Switch games, though;”
posted by Fizz (21 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The Nintendo Switch cases are the ones that upset me most. It's such a small cartridge and there's so much god damn plastic built into the casing and wrappings. It boggles my mind. I get there there's a whole set of people who are super into collecting and old cases looks good on a shelf when they are all lined up, but I'm sure there's a way to still allow for packaging/curation that doesn't destroy our planet.
posted by Fizz at 9:53 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

I can't remember the last time I bought a physical game.

I don't throw my consoles out either. My nephew stole all my good stuff.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:02 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

I could save money buying used games, but I haven't bought a physical game since 2012. The last thing I want in my life is more plastic boxes. I cringe when I read about people asking and hoping for "physical" editions. The cases are crap plastic, and the art is cheaply printed garbage.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:09 AM on February 16

One reason many of us still purchase physical copies of our games is because we like to "own" the games we are buying, too often the digital games we purchase are locked behind specific virtual stores/accounts/servers that can be shutdown, removed, de-listed, etc. So it's not just collectors out there. I buy a lot of physical games so that my wife and I do not have to double-dip on games (we both have switches), so it makes sense to have a physical cartridge.

All that being said, there should be a way to reduce the packaging wastes for these types of physical copies and I'm glad to see that SEGA is making strides towards this kind of low-impact packaging.
posted by Fizz at 10:13 AM on February 16 [10 favorites]

Even physical copies can often be tied to online licenses or massive day 1 patches just to start the game. They're kind of becoming less relevant even for their archival purpose.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:19 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Recycling of plastics is wasted effort and contributes to the problem of pollution. It costs more money and more energy to sort, clean, ship and recycle plastic than it does to create new plastic. And in this recycle process a lot of that plastic escapes to pollute the oceans.

The best thing you can to right now is to throw your plastic into the trash and then bury it, not attempt to recycle. You are taking petroleum out of the ground and then burying it again which causes no net gain in CO2, other than processing overhead.

It is worth putting more effort in reducing unnecessary plastic use than trying to recycle plastic. But of the plastic you do use, bury it.
posted by JackFlash at 11:06 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]

Changing to ecofriendly packaging is great on the wholesale level because a lot of packaging is produced. At the retail level, particularly at the level of me personally, the effect is less pronounced. The amount of plastic in one or two 32 oz cups from McDonalds seems to be about the same as that used to package a physical game.

It would be even better if game companies stopped selling physical copies altogether. A card with a game code printed on it could substitute when a physical stocking stuffer is needed. The companies could encourage this by allowing digital resale, or offering buybacks with less money offered the longer you own the game. Related: I have several digital games tied to an account for a console I don't currently own, which is annoying.

I agree with Your Childhood Pet Rock that you don't really fully own a game even if you have a physical copy, what with required patches and mandatory online services. There's also philosophical considerations like, what does it mean to say you own a game like Mario Kart where online play is such a fundamental component? If the servers shut down, you've lost a lot of the game anyway. Also in any case you still need proprietary hardware to play it.
posted by bright flowers at 11:24 AM on February 16

> I agree with Your Childhood Pet Rock that you don't really fully own a game even if you have a physical copy, what with required patches and mandatory online services.

To flip the argument for a moment; one of the redeeming values of a physical copy is that it can be transferred in ways that no digital copy to date allows for. I can buy a used game and have some assurance the manual and medium is not damaged. We can debate the merits of DVD cases in the era of solid state, but physical copies make a lot of economic sense so long as the right of resale for digital games remains denied. On a more high volume basis, Redbox makes a go of rentals, though they design their own durable cases.

But even if like capitalism is just not your thing, there is still trading going on. Just down the street from me is a public library and they carry a variety of games and DVDs, all in plastic cases. Unlike my personal collection, these games get a lot of mileage. The barcode system alone is going to require some durable form of case, and the book drop / sorting systems are not exactly friction free processes.

I am totally willing to help the cause though, by boycotting those sports game franchises. That place is a hot mess of planned obsolesce and rapid depreciation. Madden 17 costs like 2 bucks now because it's outdated.
posted by pwnguin at 12:08 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]

I agree with Your Childhood Pet Rock that you don't really fully own a game even if you have a physical copy, what with required patches and mandatory online services

That really depends on the game (and system maybe). Yes, there were patches when my partner first popped Breath of the Wild into his Switch. But if you're somewhere with no Internet, or when they shut the Switch online service down one day, you'll be able to pop that cartridge into the Switch, and play the 1.0 (or whatever the cart shipped as) just fine. Same with Mario Kart 8 (which we don't play online anyway - we don't even have a Nintendo online subscription). You can't do that with your digital download.
posted by Dysk at 12:09 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]

I don't think that the Switch games are the biggest offenders. Yes, they're made of plastic, but they're bought and usually sit on the shelves for years and years. Not in a landfill or in the ocean. It's not a disposable use of plastic.

If you're looking to reduce ocean plastic the big offender is fishing gear that gets dumped, washed out, lost, etc. It's like 50% of the problem. But that isn't a sexy, cool so we just ignore it even though that is where the biggest impact would be, instead we go after relatively low uses that don't make it into the waste stream that often for reasons.
posted by jmauro at 12:51 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]

This is an ad for Stadia, isn't it?

Snark aside, when the digital version of an eight year old game on a 14-year old console is still priced like new, it makes it hard to give up having a physical copy, when the same situation would be a couple bucks at a thrift store a few (console) generations ago, wasting less new-in-box shrink-wrap.

Borderlands 2 for the PS3 is currently $80.
posted by fragmede at 1:23 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Borderlands 2 for the PS3 is currently $80.

Or $10 for the regular edition.
posted by Dysk at 1:36 PM on February 16

JackFlash: Depends on where you are, recycling of plastics is getting better, especially in parts of Europe. The US is lagging behind however.
posted by Canageek at 2:14 PM on February 16

I dunno. The numbers I see from Europe are that only 30% is recycled, 27% goes to landfills, and the largest amount, 42% is burned for energy. Burning plastic for energy is worse than burying it because it converts petroleum to CO2.
posted by JackFlash at 3:08 PM on February 16

There are two enormous plastics plants being proposed or built in Louisiana and Western PA. Consider supporting the towns opposed to their construction. Together, These plants will emit at least 15MTCO2e/yr, more than most countries.

So, you know, the climate impact of continuing to increase consumption of plastic is deadly for everyone.
posted by eustatic at 3:17 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]

What needs doing is not recycling plastic, but reducing plastic usage. Just hard bans on usage.

But in a smart way, not some symbolic but deadly ban like the one on the use of plastic straws. Just oblige supermarket chains frex to reduce their packaging by twenty percent year on year.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:38 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]

We need to be careful with hard bans because that can just shift the pollution to someplace else, maybe someplace worse. Contrived example: we ban powerful gaming consoles, so instead people use thin clients to game on something like Stadia. But you're still using a complicated computer, now it's just in a data center instead of your home. This might be better but without running the numbers we can't be sure.
posted by bright flowers at 7:02 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]

Or we just make companies take responsibility for cradle to grave of items that can be made obsolete.

One thing that kind of disappoints me is that the iPhone Upgrade Program always comes with the box. It's nice to have the box but I don't need the box. When I did an advance replacement on my wife's iPad they sent an iPad out in a nondescript box not much larger than an iPad. I took out the new one, put the old broken one back in the box, and sent it back to Apple in the same packaging. It was so satisfying seeing basically the ultimate in packaging efficiency. My net acquired crap for that process? A small piece of paper I had to tear off the box and a fedex receipt.

Why can't I elect for that for my iPhone upgrade? If people need the box, fine, let them get it, but for people like me who just have them cluttering up a closet, I would much prefer just to get new unit, peel plastic off, put plastic on old unit, ship back old unit in the same packaging. It would also mean that Apple don't have to send out two packages, one for the iPhone, one for the upgrade kit. I already know my iPhone is going to be refurbished and sent off to a new home which is absolutely fantastic. Electing not to carry packaging would basically close the cycle and slim down my indulgence to the absolute least environmental impact.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:37 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]

I got a physical copy of Outer Words for about £40 when it came out. I played it a bit but it wasn't much cop. So I took it to a games shop and traded it for a £25 credit to buy something else. Which is a big incentive to buy the physical copy. I would much prefer to get non-plastic packaging, even though they are recyclable here or at worst would go to an energy from waste plant.
posted by biffa at 8:21 AM on February 18

Outer Worlds is currently available on Xbox Game Pass which is like Netflix for games and costs about $5/month. That's probably the most eco- and cost-friendly way to go now if the player has an Xbox One or PC, unless they think Outer Worlds is a game they really want to keep.
posted by bright flowers at 8:48 AM on February 18

Yes, I get that its less impacting to buy that way. However, its a big incentive not to buy it that way if you want to get something back if you decide its not worth keeping. I assume its only that cheap since there was general agreement it was fairly poor, it was way more up front. It doesn't help that the PS shop keeps its basic prices high and then does occasional sales, it doesn't seem to give any discount reflecting not having to run a chain of shops or a physical supply chain and it doesn't come down in price very quickly. Less quickly than amazon say.
posted by biffa at 10:35 AM on February 18

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