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  xWednesday, May 21, 2003

bad idea of the day


I'd been meaning to comment on Disney's proposed time-delimited DVDs, and fortunately, along comes Wired News with an article to link.
On Friday, Flexplay and Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a division of Disney, announced they will sell DVDs of popular movies that, once opened, can be viewed for 48 hours, then tossed in the trash.

Dubbed the EZ-D, the product will be in test markets in August. It's designed to appeal to those who want to simplify their renting experience, eliminating worries about late fees or scratches.

"We've developed a new type of DVD that (can be) sold at any point of sale that your imagination can think of," said Art LeBlanc, president of Flexplay, which manufactures the discs. "It brings an unprecedented level of convenience. This is intended to address people who find renting inconvenient."

Yet for the environmentally conscious, that argument is as appealing as the pile of garbage these DVDs will create.

"This is taking the idea of planned obsolescence to a whole, absurd new level," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a nonprofit environmental group. "This is one of those disposable products that we don't really need. This is actually building a limit into the device.

"It's just perfectly lame," he said.

"It's unintelligent and illogical to take a durable, reusable product like a DVD and turn it into a product that becomes waste in 48 hours," said David Wood, organizational director of the Computer TakeBack Campaign.

After the EZ-D is opened, consumers can view the film as often as they like for a two-day period. After 48 hours, a bonding resin on the DVD reacts to the atmosphere around it, making the disc unreadable. The movies are wrapped in packaging similar to that used in the food-service industry so this chemical reaction does not begin until after the package is opened.

What a terrible idea. Plastic is one of the world's great non-biodegradable substance, and waste from obsolete or otherwise unwanted electronic products is already a big problem at the nation's landfills. I agree that if the target audience is identified as being unwilling to return rental discs, it's disingenuous to suppose that they'll take the step of mailing disposable DVDs in for recycling -- although if Disney were committed to the idea, they should supply a postage-paid envelope for the purpose.

I shudder to think of all these plastic discs headed off for the trash; I don't even like it when my CD-ROM burner fails on the job, 'cause I hate throwing the darn things away. (On the other hand, I think it's cool that there's a company devoted to recycling computer media.)

Fortunately, according to Wired, consumer reaction doesn't seem favorable, at least in light of the alternatives:
Consumers have a number of other environmentally friendly alternatives, such as video-on-demand services, Murray said.

For instance, travelers can check out DVDs and DVD players at airports, then drop them off when they arrive at the next airport. NetFlix also gives consumers a convenient way to rent films and avoids the disposability issue.

"Those are companies that are creating a convenience, but also a wasteless structure for rental and return," Wood said.

Of course, even if the notion flops, there's still be all those hunks of plastic headed for the landfill.





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