Wasteful Product Boxes

| 6 mins | Bob
tags: journal, mainstream, opinion

Today has come the time for another rant on my part. And no, I will not accept any excuses or opinion-based arguments on this topic. This is a serious issue, and it has to change. OK, what am I talking about?

You internet-savvy folks are probably familiar with those oh-so-relevant unboxing videos. They are the entry point for every tech youtuber and just as much for kids dreaming to find a new high-end gaming setup under the Christmas tree. It seems, at least according to those videos, that the packaging containing the tech item is of great importance. Not only is the box cinematically presented, when opening it up, the product (the video is said to be about) is removed and laid aside, often even moved out of the frame! The camera zooms onto the now mostly empty box, which is then shown in more detail. It is rotated, flaps are lifted, cards are extracted, welcoming messages are read, packaging inserts are removed, booklets are flicked through, more flaps are lifted, cables are found, foils are peeled off, adapters are unwrapped, and so on and so forth. You get what I’m saying.

Though I’m not talking about the videos about the box but the gorram box itself. Who on earth thought this would be a good idea?! Who thought that a handful of videos on YouTube glorifying the packaging would justify this?! Let me show you an example. Recently, I was rummaging in my drawers and containers for old and unused things I could get rid of. Ended up in a big, unfunny clean-out. I found several books, DVDs, etc. I could give away to a second-hand. Among the items was a Google Chromecast (generation 2 from 2015) but just the box of it and I remembered that I have given it to a friend some time ago. So I could easily recycle the package – at least I thought so.

Let me present to you the parts that make up a Chromecast box:

Chromecast box taken apart

Can someone please explain to me why, in the name of Boximus Prime, a small $35 device has to be packaged in something that is more complicated to assemble than the device itself? 24 parts! At least seven different materials. Most of them having a weird non-universal shape with tons of cutouts. Each of them glued together so strongly that I had serious trouble ripping it apart. This is so totally bunkus that I couldn’t find words for the two days I have this laid down on my floor.

Here is a description in more detail:

  • the box has a lower part with a cover sliding over it until it is stopped by a small rim at the bottom of the box
  • these two halves are made from thick cardboard that is coloured white from one side which become the inner surface (pts. 12–16 & 18–22)
  • the pieces for the lower half are slightly smaller, one side of the upper half has a slim cutout for a plastic handle (pt. 9) which is glued in from the inside
  • the lid (pt. 18) has a thin foam pad glued on which would touch the product when closed
  • cardboard for the lower and upper halves are wrapped in thick paper (pts. 11 & 17) to be held in place, surfaces are fully glued together
  • both pieces have slightly different dimensions, upper cover (pt. 17) has the handle-cutout
  • lower half box has another slightly larger cardboard piece glued on (pt. 24)
  • this is also wrapped in thick paper (pt. 23)
  • the inside of the box is equipped with two layers of thin cardboard, one white, one blue (pts. 1 & 2)
  • bottom layer (pt. 1) is glued into the box on one side, several flaps that would hold the charging cable in place are folded and glued onto the backside
  • small paper booklet (pt. 8) with security words is stuck onto the bottom layer with a small piece of tape (pt. 4), which has rounded corners
  • upper layer (pt. 2) folds and wraps a foam element (pt. 7) which is glued in, their cutouts would hold the Chromecast
  • two folded cardboard pieces (pts. 5 & 6) are glued onto the bottom of the upper layer, these hold the Chromecast’s HDMI cable in place
  • finally, there was a loose (not glued in!) and folded card with installation instructions on the back (pt. 10)
  • oh, and I think the Chromecast also had a foil stuck onto its glossy surface

Now let that sink in. What I described is not a bomb that blows up when one cable comes loose and jiggles a bit. It is also no warehouse crate that carries 200 kg of goods and has to withstand rough handling. It is not even the fancy gift box of a wristwatch costing several grand. No, it’s the throw-away packaging of a cheap small device designed to sit untouched and unseen for years behind the TV of hundreds of thousands of people. I wouldn’t be surprised if the supply chain for the box itself is equally long as that for the Chromecast. And you wonder about climate change being unstoppable. Utterly disgusting.

As a significant portion of consumer electronics is purchased online1, I wonder why the online shops almost never show the packaging. Why spend resources, energy, money and time for the elaborate production of a product box that doesn’t even contribute to the customer’s purchase decision? Why construct a box that consists of complexly folded paper compartments, foils and plastic parts that are easily damaged and make reuse of it impossible when the device is returned to the seller? Why not simply encase them in a blank cardboard box with a simple crumpled paper padding and include a card saying “Hey dear customer, please don’t be disappointed by this uncreative package. It is eco-friendly while perfectly doing its job of protecting the device.” The products themselves are wasteful enough, so why the hell do their packages need to be so multipartite that they require an entire assembly line on their own? I’m sure that there are clever people that can design something less unnecessary than this.

I could definitely continue this rant over several more paragraphs, but I don’t want to strain your precious time too much. So, I hope that you pay a little more attention to the ongoing waste of resources, which is certainly not as far away from the customers as many believe. Also, because this will probably be my last post this year, I already wish you a happy end-of-the-year with whatever, if any, feast you are celebrating.

Take care, Bob.

  1. EU-examples according to recent 2021 Statista surveys: 36 % in UK, 34 % in GER and 29 % in FR prefer to buy consumer electronics in online-shops rather than offline. 

Bumbleboss, 2021-12-21 22:15

Definitely support the idea of having less compartments for a product box, no need for all that. I have seen some products that send theirs in a case (bag) which I definitely like but I cant really tell if there’s complications for that too. Other than that, good read, tho that list of stuff of the box scared me off lol.

Lastly, happy new year!!

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updated on 2022-11-30