Environmentalists are steamed about one movie studio's latest attempt to market home movies to the public.
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.
Add these discs to the ever-deepening pile of e-waste pollution environmentalists are fighting. Many of the old computers and junked gadgets in the United States are dumped overseas, creating health hazards for whoever ends up living near the waste.
LeBlanc insisted that the company is concerned about the environment.
"This first thing we had to do was make sure that the technology is not harmful if it ends up in a landfill, and we've achieved those goals," LeBlanc said. "We've got an environmentally safe product."
The DVDs can be re-molded into other products if they are recycled, he said. Customers can mail their used DVDs to GreenDisk, a company that recycles old DVDs. Flexplay will cover the cost of recycling the discs. It's also working to get a collection or drop-off process in place, so people could avoid the cost of mailing in their old EZ-Ds.
"You could save up a year's worth of Flexplay discs and then drop it off once," LeBlanc said, comparing the process to dropping off aluminum cans at a recycling facility. "As we broaden our retail and distribution opportunities for the product, we will also broaden our collection points."
Others are skeptical. "Their whole business model is to capture this person while they are standing in line at the checkout counter," CAW's Murray said. "The notion that they are going to simultaneously encourage people to recycle is in conflict with their business model. It would complicate the purchase -- that undermines the convenience model."
"I can't even take their reference to recycling seriously," he added.
CTC's Wood agreed: "If the company is offering this product to consumers who don't want to make a return trip to the rental store, it's illogical to assume that those customers would then go to a post office and mail back an obsolete DVD."
Plus, not all waste ends up in a landfill, Wood said. Some trash is incinerated, and burning plastic can release harmful toxins into the air.
The trash generated by the DVDs is not as much of a concern as the environmental impact of producing these one-use products, Murray said. Now, instead of producing a disc that will be used by 50 to 100 people, he said, the resources and energy used to create that one DVD will be multiplied 50 or 100 times.
The companies have not announced where the EZ-Ds will be sold or how much they will cost.
Many consumers were turned off by the idea.
"I'm by no means a tree hugger, but I do believe in recycling products," said Kevin Bezold, a tax specialist from Denver who said he would not buy an EZ-D. "You certainly can make better choices than to purchase a product like this, merely for convenience."
He doubted movie-watchers would take the time to recycle the disc, comparing the process to cleaning the bathroom.
"You should do it every week, but you don't do it every week," Bezold said.
Software developer Ken Hartlen of Toronto said that EZ-Ds sound like one more product to throw away, like the wasteful AOL discs marketed through the mail.
"With a big company like Disney, if it takes off, that could be a huge volume of stuff," Hartlen said. "I have no interest in a product like that."
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.