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Waste is super not simple...so we have ways of simplifying it in our heads. The Flexplay DVD gives us insight into exactly how that works. We decide whether it's OK to throw something away by thinking about how valuable it is. A plastic bottle is just a container that holds something, but a DVD is the thing I purchased! Or...is it?

I talk more about why a bottle of coke and a DVD are roughly equivalent over on hankschannel: https://youtu.be/g64lojMyZXY

Thanks to Technology Connections for sending me the disc!

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Good morning John, I'm a really big fan of a YouTube channel called technology connections where a guy talks about people movers and toasters and just all of the bits and pieces that make our world work.

He did a video recently on a piece of failed technology called the flex play DVD. The whole video is super worth watching, but here's a quick summary:

Flex play DVDs were a way to rent a DVD without need to return them. They were sealed in an airtight bag. When opened a chemical in the DVD would begin reacting with the oxygen in the atmosphere and after two days of that, the DVD would be unplayable. I actually have right here the very DVD he used in that video because I DMed him and he sent it to me because I want to do an experiment.

So flex play was a bad idea for a bunch of reasons, but the reason we think it's a bad idea, the reason we all hate it is because it seems extremely wasteful, right? You have created a whole DVD just to intentionally destroy it. There was a ton of backlash.

People protested outside of the stores that sold them. And I'm here to tell you today that that that was actually fine. But it also gives us a whole heaping helping of insight into how we imagine waste and why we do a bad job of it.

So let's do my experiment. Let's put the flex play DVD here on a scale and see how much it weighs. Ah, 16 grams. What about this plastic that kept my Metamucil safe when it was shipped to me by Amazon.com? What about this sugar-water bottle that has the name vitamin in it so I think that it's healthy or something? What about this coffee cup that I literally took out of my garbage can because I didn't think at all about throwing it away?

Now you might be saying to yourself, "But Hank, the DVD has more than just plastic in it, it's got whatever that shiny stuff is, right?" But that shiny stuff...yeah, and a whole heck of a lot less of it than is in this can. I'm not saying that all of these plastics have identical resource costs and lifespans, they don't. But when somebody says like, "Just throw away the DVD," like my brain doesn't protest to that idea because I'm like intimately familiar with the life cycle of polycarbonate.

So why? Why does my brain freak out about throwing away a DVD, but not about throwing away a plastic cup? I think there's two reasons.

First, we have been taught that DVDs are valuable. The inventors of Flex Play were imagining DVDs as what they practically are: a container that holds media. Just like this is a container that holds sugar water.

But up until Flex Play, the people selling DVDs were making the case that they an exceptional experience, that they were almost a luxury product. Now they knew that DVDs were actually way cheaper, or would at least become way cheaper to manufacture than VHS tapes, and indeed they are far less resource-intensive than VHS tapes. But they were shiny, and they put them in big sturdy cases that are actually way bigger than they need to be, which actually use far more plastic than the DVD itself. And it worked. We see them as valuable, even if they are just plastic with some foil inside.

And second, it's new. When we first started getting bottled water, people freaked out about the plastic that was going into this, and it always struck me as a little bit strange that we didn't like have a commensurate freak-out about like, the plastic bottles that contain a product that is far worse for humans and for the environment than water. Coke, after all, is just water with a bunch of really resource-intensive mega-crops put inside of it.

And in response to that backlash, a lot of bottled water actually comes in flimsier, thinner bottles with smaller caps that don't use as much plastic. Coke still comes in a very fancy bottle to give us the impression of a high-quality experience. This plastic is even thicker because it's supposed to be an even more high-quality experience.

We rebelled against plastic being used for bottled water because to our brains, everything that was the way that it is when we were kids is kinda just the way it is. It's much easier to question new things than to question things that have always been that way.

That's a problem, especially when it comes to waste, because I'm not saying it's okay to make disposable DVDs, it's not, but we should probably think about throwing away a DVD every time we buy a bottle of Coke because in terms of waste, those things are about the same.

This video brought to you by Coca-Cola -- hell no it's not! John, I'll see you on Tuesday.

Two things. One, I accidentally uploaded a hankschannel video to Vlogbrothers and it was over four minutes so I have another punishment brewing. And two, if you're up for a more in-depth conversation about the environmental footprint of these materials, come on over to hankschannel.