Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Towards sustainable DVD packaging

I work in the high tech industry, and my job sometimes has me standing in a booth at a trade show trying to get the attention of the crowds. That puts me in contact with product marketing, and especially the materials used in marketing. The last show I attended gave me an epiphanette (small epiphany) about DVD packaging. I had helped produce a DVD containing the software I work on, and the DVD was packaged in the standard DVD case. It looks very nice and I'm proud of what we've put together, however it struck me how unsustainable and inconvenient it was. From a sustainability perspective the materials this DVD is made from will last nigh on forever, but the message will be good for a couple months.

I have here an attempt to analyze the problem and offer some solutions. There are alternatives. An Inconvenient Truth was packaged in a recycled/recyclable cardboard sleeve.

Problem statement:

  • The plastic used to make standard DVD cases lasts nigh on forever, meaning it will end up in a landfill and nigh on never decompose.
  • A standard plastic DVD case containing just a DVD is largely empty space.  As empty space, it makes for inefficient shipping and one can imagine a different shipping which packs more DVD's into the same volume.
  • Plastic in general is very damaging to the environment over the long term .. such as the buildup of persistent chemicals in the environment. Breakdown of plastic produces persistent environmental pollutants are causing a worldwide problem.

The packaging for An Inconvenient Truth shows a nice alternative. While it was packaged in a cardboard sleeve, it looked very nice. That it was flatter than the standard plastic DVD case means you can pack more of them in the same space, or pack the same number in a smaller space. There's always a scramble around getting materials to a tradeshow, storing the materials while at the tradeshow, etc, and it would be more convenient if the materials are more compact. It would be more convenient to the attendees as well, because they end up carrying the items they pick up, and the more compact items are easier to lug around especially when it comes time to pack their bags for the return flight home.

The Wikipedia entry on CD and DVD packaging gives us an excellent overview of the methods being employed. We learn that the standard DVD case has a name, namely the keep case.

Most methods for packaging DVD's and CD's involve the use of plastic. And plastics have an unfortunate side effect of poisoning the environment with persistent chemicals. From a sustainability standpoint, some kind of cardboard packaging offers easy recyclability, and can be made from recycled materials, and at worst they can be burned with little toxic side effect. The DVD or CD itself is still made from plastics, but this is largely unavoidable.

My researches turned up some hopeful news.

Sustainable Packaging newsletter:  Is all about sustainable packaging, and in particular this issue discusses the packaging of An Inconvenient Truth.

Video Business: Has an overview of recent moves towards more sustainable DVD packaging.  They were inspired by Wal-mart and An Inconvenient Truth.  Warner Home Video has announced that beginning April 1, 2007 all paper content will be sourced from recycled chlorine-free paper.  Warner Music Group has a similar announcement.

Wal-mart instigating a move to sustainable materials, will wonders never cease.

Finally, for this to make a difference in DVD production by my company, there must be production houses offering these sorts of alternate packaging solutions. The DVD I helped produce was packaged by a duplicating service, and if you yahoogle for "CD duplication" or "DVD duplication" you will find hundreds of these duplication services around the world. These companies employee graphics artists to help with design, and they operate duplication and printing machines and handle the grunt work of producing and assembling CD's and DVD's.

The Wikipedia article above described one packaging option, the digipak, as an environmental friendly solution. It does have some plastic in the packaging, but it is mostly made of cardboard. The Discbox Slider packaging is described as one of the most environmentally friendly styles of packaging, as it is 100% recyclable. The Discbox Slider is available from Stora Enso Media Packaging.

discmakers.com: They have a FAQ describing various steps in the DVD production process, and the link here is to a discussion of packaging alternatives.

By yahoogling for "DVD packaging sustainable" I found several service companies that can use the sort of packaging I envisioned:

Crystal Clear Disc and Tape



Disc & Print Centre, Ireland

digipak, and cardboard sleeve formats.


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