Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On Really, Really, Really Bad Ideas

Tonight I came across an article about a business deal cut between Staples and a company called Flexplay. It seems Flexplay dabbles in an interesting market: that of self-destructing DVDs. Apparently, Flexplay produces movie disks that are rendered unplayable 48 hours after being removed from their packaging. This is due to a chemical reaction between oxygen and an adhesive agent the disk is produced with. According to one source, the idea is to offer movie rentals that don't have to be watched immediately and don't wrack up late fees.

These Flexplay discs are going to be sold for 5 bucks a pop. Five dollars for a DVD that you can probably only watch once, and then must be thrown away. What sort of deal is that? The cheapest Netflix plan costs five dollars and it'll get you two movies per month, which, when spaced across that time frame, also removes most people's worries of late fees or making time to watch a film. And with Netflix, you return the movies and they can be used again. You can be a film buff with a clean conscience, because you're not producing hugely uncessesary, non-biodegradable waste.

And let's consider it this way: DVDs are almost pure plastic. And we all know that plastic is made from petrochemicals, which means they all involve oil. This is an aspect of the oil crisis that people don't often consider. It extends far beyond the gasoline we pump into our cars. Do we really need one more utterly disposible plastic product being produced? Christ, even plastic bags can be reused multiple time before you are forced to discard them, but these DVDs are only good for one viewing, and then they're good for absolutely nothing. Except sitting in a landfill for the rest of eternity. What is the point?

I'm just baffled by the whole thing. By the number of people involved in orchestrating the production and introduction of a product like this, none of whom seem to recognize that it's just a tragically moronic venture. You can go to WalMart and buy movies for 5 dollars these days. Permanent, enjoyable, re-watchable movies. Not that I want to concede even a little bit that any of this makes sense, but 5 dollars for a self-destructing rental (I find it odd to call it a rental, too, because afterall, you do own the useless piece of garbage after you've left the store with it)? What about one dollar? If you're going to make something that disposable, why not make the price worth someone's while? The fact that they have to charge a pretty unreasonable price (likely to recoup production expenses) should be enough of a hint that this is a really bad idea. That, and the fact that a company already tried this nearly a decade ago and was driven into extinction within months.

It's not that they're not trying, though. A visit to the official Flexplay website yields this message:

"All Flexplay discs are recyclable and no different in their environmental impact than regular DVDs. Polycarbonate is a fully recyclable plastic and the proprietary chemical and technology used in the limited play DVD conform to applicable EPA standards for health and environmental protection.

And of course, a Flexplay No-Return DVD Rental completely eliminates the energy usage and emissions associated with a return trip to the video rental store."

Hmm. I guess yes, technically, they are no different in environmental impact than normal DVDs, besides the fact that you don't throw away your other DVDs after watching them once. In fact, I don't know anyone that throws away DVDs ever, unless they break or become too damaged to function (which actually takes quite a bit of effort). Most people just keep them, give them away, re-sell them, anything. And are they honestly suggesting that they're actually benefiting the environment in the long run by reducing trips to the rental stores? I wonder how embarrassed or pathetic they feel for even venturing that suggestion. Sure, some emissions are being prevented, but is it really enough to offset all the junk DVDs that will be thrust into circulation? Unless of course lots of people frequently drive semi-trucks to rental stores many miles away from their homes. I bet there was a lot of debate over whether or not to let that one lie or if it really might be better than not addressing environmental concerns at all. Netflix has them beat on this one too, and badly. Walking to my mailbox produces no emissions (unless I have an upset stomach) and results in no plastic-y trash. And don't even say the mail deliverer's vehicle is replacing the emissions that I'm avoiding by not using my vehicle. They were coming to my mailbox either way, smarties.

I don't know. The more write and the more I think about it, the more nonplussed and grumpy I get. Honestly, haven't we arrived at the point yet where we realized how screwed we are?

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