Editorial: On Wasteful Manufacturing and Packaging of Apple Accessories | iLounge Article

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Editorial: On Wasteful Manufacturing and Packaging of Apple Accessories

Though we fill more recycling bins on a weekly basis than the average small company, we’re not hard-core environmentalists by any stretch of the imagination. We spend a lot of time testing Apple accessories that have been shipped to us from different companies located all over the world, so something really has to stand out before one company’s manufacturing practices strike us as problematic enough to call out in an article. But after trying to make the point in prior First Looks at Ozaki’s products, we felt strongly that a firmer stand needed to be taken today.

iPod, iPhone, and iPad users have seen our extensive accessory coverage for years now, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that we’ve covered literally thousands of products in tens of thousands of variations. Cases almost always come in multiple colors, as do some speakers, headphones, and stands, and we’ve welcomed the opportunity to actually see the different versions so we can share them with you. Moreover, we’ve long maintained a policy that whatever we receive from companies needs to be in final production form, generally inside final packaging, so we will have the same experience as you would when each new box is opened and its contents are taken out for first use. There’s little point in previewing or reviewing something if our experience isn’t the same as the one you’re going to have.

From the hundreds of companies we’ve covered over the years, a few have stood out as serial offenders in the “making too much crap” category. Some keep making crappy products, others make wasteful packaging, and the worst do both. We’ve said as much in prior reviews of individual products, while praising other companies that have either kept their lineups streamlined or developed excellent, comparatively eco-friendly packaging to minimize the amount of waste generated by the initial act of unpacking their products. It’s our view—strongly held—that environmentally responsible behavior isn’t just about using natural leather tanning agents rather than toxic chemicals, or in picking “highly recyclable” glass and metal materials over plastic, but rather requires a bigger commitment: creating products that are made to last and modestly packaged, regardless of materials, so that fewer things are shipped around the world, only to be tossed into trash cans or recycle bins. The most eco-friendly practice is to create things that don’t need to be disposed of at all.


This tiny stylus has larger packaging than an iPod shuffle, with plenty of waste

Like several other companies operating out of China or its territories—businesses with seemingly unlimited access to cheap plastics, cardboard, foam, and metal—Ozaki has been on the wrong side of this discussion for a while now. We’ve previously noted that it has shipped out products in boxes that had more apparent value than the accessories themselves, and released multiple, highly similar versions of simple products rather than coming up with just one or two good ones. Today, when the DHL delivery man arrived huffing and puffing with a massive box in his hands, literally expressing joy that we were there to take it from him, all it took was one glance at the Ozaki name to guess what we’d find inside.

Even then, we were surprised. At the top, we found bags of discarded packing materials and adhesive strips as a first layer of padding, atop layer after layer of cardboard and styrofoam. Buried beneath them were rows of clear, hard plastic boxes with comparatively tiny accessories inside. Twenty four different iFinger styluses were the first to come out, alongside huge box after box of iPad cases, many again with packages that looked nicer than the cheap, flimsy-feeling cases inside. Two of the cases were actually nice, but most weren’t, and some were differentiated by nothing more than the color of the string used to stitch their sides together.

Many of the boxes contained additional layers of cardboard, foam, plastic, and tape to suspend the items centrally for display. And every box had a metal Ozaki logo integrated into one side, plus a dangling metal Ozaki keychain hanging from the top. The point at which we snapped was when we found the iPad screen protectors. Ozaki uses clipboard-sized and -weighted plastic boxes with the aforementioned metal adornments, which are opened to reveal only one sheet of thin film and a cloth inside. It was a waste of materials and manufacturing labor on a scale that would be unimaginable virtually anywhere in the world except China. And it really, seriously has to stop.

To be clear, China is now the manufacturing fountainhead for almost every iPod, iPhone, iPad, and accessory sold in other countries—it is such a go-to destination for Apple gear that several companies in the industry have expressed dismay at these sorts of practices while still producing their products in the very factories that are polluting in China and exporting disposable junk throughout the world. This is a Chinese problem to the extent that few other countries have such low labor and material costs that vendors could even conceive of wasting so much and still turning a profit, but it’s also the responsibility of designers and executives in Ozaki’s native Taiwan, as well as competitors elsewhere in Asia, Europe and the United States. Wasted volume, wasted weight, and wasted materials drive up shipping costs, storage costs, and disposal costs. If you’re approving it for mass manufacture, shipping it, or selling it, you’re part of the issue.

And so, to the extent that we write about and help to popularize it, are we. So we’re going to change the way we deal with companies that are especially offensive in wasting materials. Remaining silent or quiet on the issue of manufacturing waste would be a lot easier than taking a stand against it—companies do, after all, have the ability to use virtually any design technique at their disposal to make their products stand out from the crowd, and we appreciate cool-looking packages as much as anyone. But wrapping 50-cent pieces of plastic film and dollar-quality cases in such wasteful, disposable packaging is a practice that should be shunned. Ozaki, amongst other companies, needs to start putting a lot more thought and a lot less unnecessary material into both the products and the packages it produces. Going forward, we’re not going to offer editorial support to companies that display such wanton disregard for sensible manufacturing practices, and our hope is that you, readers, will shift your money and focus to products and producers who care about the waste they leave behind. There are many good options out there, and if a few more companies consider the broader impact of their manufacturing choices, they’ll make things better for everyone over time.

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Comments

1

You’d think these companies would take a cue from the very company whose products they’re trying to accessorize.

We had to pick up a new Mac mini at work today, and it was almost shocking how little packaging there was. The box was hardly bigger than the mini itself, and there were only two bits of plastic in the box: one that protected the mini, from scratches and another holding the power cord in a neat bundle. The rest was just a tiny bit of recyclable cardboard.

Seriously, Ozaki (and the rest), take a hint!

Posted by Woody on July 9, 2010 at 6:35 PM (PDT)

2

While it is right to try to reduce the amount of packaging used for a product, remember that ALL products require some sort of packaging to get it from manufacturer to end consumer. Security of the product for the retailer is important to the retailer, small items have to be in bigger packages to prevent shop lifting and theft, including having that RFID tag to sound when someone tries to sneak it through the door. Items have to be protected from people looking at them, to prevent them from being scratched, picked at, folded, spindled, mutilated and broken.

By all means, do comment on the packaging in your reviews, BUT do your packaging review justice by commenting on its suitability for surviving the consumer in handling it in the retail store. Otherwise, you are not being practical when it comes to the reality of retail and that there are a lot of people that will steal if given the opportunity. You may not be a thief, but self-service means that some WILL steal.

I try to reduce my use of packaging and I get disgusted by the amount required, but there are reasons and history for it, whether you agree or not.

Posted by Reginald W on July 11, 2010 at 8:20 AM (PDT)

3

#2: Though the point should have been obvious from the editorial, this is not a case of merely packaging practically for shipment. We’re talking about styluses in boxes larger, heavier, and more complex than iPod boxes. Waste.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 11, 2010 at 1:39 PM (PDT)

4

Dear iLounge !

Thank you very much indeed. There are some companies that shine in regard to making a good, recycable, user- and merchant-friendly packaging. And there is the majority that still doesn’t care or still thinks that blister packaging and a like are a clever marketing idea. It has to stop. I salute to your effort.

Posted by Christoph on July 12, 2010 at 9:02 AM (PDT)

5

I still miss the original square-box multi-color packaging for the iPods (generations 1 through 4).  It was something of an thrill opening each layer of packaging that just can’t be replicated anymore with the current iPods and iPhones.

And speaking of bad packaging, have any of you tried opening the plastic case encasing the current iPod Touch?  It’s nearly impossible and takes quite a few strong efforts to pry it apart.  You just might end up cutting your fingers.  Talk about overkill.  Shame on Apple.

Posted by JonnyOneNote on July 12, 2010 at 10:21 PM (PDT)

6

Now what about recycle-ability?  Yes such a large package for tiny items does cost more to ship and store, etc., but once it’s in my house, is all that plastic recyclable?  That’s what disgusts me more now a days, things that come in large plastic package that can’t re recycled.  If Ozaki spent even less money and effort on thinking about recycling, then I definitely wouldn’t buy their stuff.

Posted by Brianbobcat on July 14, 2010 at 12:32 PM (PDT)

7

Though I understand and agree with the article, I do agree with #2 in that some of those small items do need to be in larger packaging to display and prevent theft.

Not justifying in what they do, however, I also would like to point out a cultural thing. As an Asian who has watched my parents package things and who has lived in Japan and watched merchants (even produce retailers) package things, I can safely say that package over-kill is definitely part of their culture.

As a matter of fact, it is a family joke between my (Caucasian) wife and me about how my parents always ship things to us. I swear, if my mom or dad wanted to mail me a toothpick, it would be encased in several layers of newspaper, followed by bubblewrap, placed in a double-corrugated box with packing peanuts, with all box seams securely sealed with double packing tape. Really. No joke.

So this article on Ozaki (curiously, a Japanese name for a Taiwanese company) does not surprise me.

Posted by Brad on July 18, 2010 at 12:22 AM (PDT)

8

A thought occurred to me that I should probably explain why this is so in the Asian culture.

I’m no expert, but just in what I have observed while living in Japan and growing up with my parents, Asians believe that presentation is everything. That it is AT LEAST equal to what is being presented and in some cases more important. Why? Because if it isn’t presented meticulously and artistically, then it not only shows one’s disregard for the quality of the product that is packaged, but it is also showing disregard for the person who is receiving it.

In Japan, I’ve seen this at grocery stores, department stores, street vendors, shops, kiosks, etc. etc. etc. It permeates their whole life as keeping one’s honor is a very real and strong force in their life, not just some fictional, Klingon personality trait.

For example, it seems that one of the worse packaging examples was the Ozaki iPad screen protector. In our Western eyes, this is terribly wasteful. To them, it shows that they hold the purchaser in utmost esteem and that in no way do they want what they are presenting (the product) to be blemished. And in their eyes, to do less would not only be shameful (lose face) for them, but a direct affront to the consumer’s honor.

Please do not misinterpret: I AM NOT SERMONIZING HERE! I’m just trying to explain something that I’ve seen all my life and I’m going “Ha! I know what this is!” while reading the article. Now, this doesn’t speak for the non-Asian companies, that’s for sure.

Posted by Brad on July 18, 2010 at 12:42 AM (PDT)

9

#7/8: We get stuff from Japanese, Korean, and Chinese companies all the time. None of them wastes materials like this. Seriously, none of them.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 18, 2010 at 11:57 AM (PDT)

10

Annoying topic, thank you for handling it like this!
If everyone in your field of business would follow suit, things would improve literally on the spot. It feels(to me at least) like it takes only days for copy-cat designs to show up once something “new” is introduced, especially and foremost in the accessories field. I’d guess that it would be just the same if all or at least the majority of influential reviewers online and in print would join in! How about a race to copy Apple’s approach, pretty much like #1 suggested?
#8 I agree that the presentation / packaging is valued differently in Japan, but from my limited experience they care about style as much as protection. Nasty looks and waste don’t seem to score high with Japanese even with really good level of protection.. Even simple paper boxes are often pieces of art without sacrificing the original purpose.. Ozaki on the other hand delivered junk, superfluous and wasteful. This, to my knowledge, is frowned upon in Japan..

Posted by Pete on July 21, 2010 at 12:47 PM (PDT)

11

Guess the Taiwanese are just not as good at it…

See, we aren’t ALL alike! wink

Posted by Brad on July 24, 2010 at 4:46 AM (PDT)

12

Interesting that the company being criticized so directly has ads prominent on the home page.

I’m not sure if that implies integrity in iLounge honoring its contracts, or a failure to take a strong stance in action as well as words.

I’m sure it’s complicated, but if they are an advertiser that HAS to make things tricky.

I’d say the issue with display and theft prevention knocks down the offense level, perhaps from a 10 to an 8 or so.

Posted by Faded_memories on July 30, 2010 at 11:59 PM (PDT)

13

#12: Our editorial and business sides operate independently, so the fact that a company happens to be temporarily renting ad space on some of our pages wouldn’t dissuade our editors from speaking up about problems. Topics like this are too serious to ignore.

As a footnote to this article, we contacted Ozaki directly to address the problem and came away with the impression that it just doesn’t ‘get it.’ Even the company doesn’t suggest that it’s a somehow justifiable theft protection measure. It’s just a clueless waste of materials for the sake of creating the unwarranted impression of added value.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 31, 2010 at 1:59 AM (PDT)

14

I am extremely interested in this topic and strongly agree with your altruistic objectives. I’m sorry but I can’t agree that “This is a Chinese problem” since neither the designer or consumer is in China. I have actually visited factories in China and spoken to all levels of staff. They are also shocked at what designers (and ultimately consumers) are asking of them. Unfortunately there living conditions put them in the position of not being able to choose the jobs that take. For many of them (by which I mean more than half the planet of developing nations) not taking a job is a decision of whether your family eats or not. The root of the problem is more likely to be the high levels of Japanese influence in Taiwan, and the cultural expectation in Japan for excessive packaging. That cultural influence suggests “form over function” (just look at Japanese food for example) and also the nationalistic (unselfish) desire to keep the nation in higher levels of employment. Keep up the good work but know the problem roots are not so easy to define and judgment should not be passed so easily. I would love to blame the designers but the collective group of consumers have the most power / conscience.

Posted by oj on August 3, 2010 at 8:23 PM (PDT)

15

Actually this is really a developed nations’ problem. Consumers in developing nations laugh at (and are also disgusted by) small food on big plates and small products in big packaging. The designer is only trying to appeal to the idea of “prestige” placement on the crowded retail shelves of developed nations.

Posted by oj on August 3, 2010 at 8:40 PM (PDT)

16

Without raising all of the complex political ambiguities, the Chinese/Taiwanese distinction isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and they’re being discussed jointly as ‘Chinese’ herein.

Blaming Japan for the problems of a Taiwanese company and the many environmentally unconscious Chinese peers is sort of ridiculous. No Japanese company wastes on this level, and in all the years we’ve been covering products in this space - including multiple visits to Japan - there has been no evidence that this sort of packaging is either common or desired by Japanese consumers. Additionally, any suggestion that Japanese food (authentic Japanese food, that is) represents a triumph of form over function is a misunderstanding of both intent and traditional tastes too profound to dignify further. The pursuit of clean, minimalist implementations is at odds with throw-everything-at-wall ones, and Japanese companies know this better than most.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on August 4, 2010 at 6:01 AM (PDT)

17

I’m going to have to agree with #7, 8, 14 and 15. I lived in Shanghai for 4 years and the overpackaging concept is true. You get individually wrapped sweets that are packed in groups of five inside a larger box, which is thick, heavy and often difficult to open. If you go to a bakery, many of the pastries have been wrapped in plastic and tied with a bow as soon as they’re baked, then placed in little cupcake-like trays made of baking sheets, then arranged. When you make your purchases, everything is rebagged and repackaged so you can carry it away.

American-produced or designed products don’t tend to look this way. If you go to a McDonalds, Starbucks or KFC in China, it’s pretty much the same as it is anywhere else in the world.

It’s a Chinese cultural thing. It’s not just this company. Presentation and impression is of utmost importance in Chinese culture, despite the fact that some other aspects of it may seem minimalist. In the means of consumption, however, China has perhaps been influenced by the west a little too much.

Criticising Ozaki for packaging their materials too excessively is a bit like spitting in their face; they packaged it in such a way to appear presentable and desirable to iLounge and any potential consumers. A misguided decision by Ozaki, perhaps, but this article reads a bit too brash and superficially. Chalk it up to a cultural misunderstanding, and tread lightly.

Posted by Albert on August 8, 2010 at 5:55 AM (PDT)

18

#17: The crux of your comment is that we should excuse bad behavior on the grounds that waste is a part of Chinese selling culture. Never mind that the vast majority of other companies we deal with (based in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or elsewhere) do not engage in these wasteful, environmentally destructive activities - or that the very examples you cite should be frowned upon anywhere in the world. When it happens, we should just accept it because what’s okay in Shanghai is supposed to be okay in San Francisco. Right?

We’re not interested in doing that. Overpackaging in a manner that encourages disposal of 50% or more of a purchased product strikes us as an inexcusable problem. When we see a problem that’s in need of being remedied, we’re going to call it out. If you don’t see it as a problem, vote with your pocketbook and buy products from companies that put more effort into their boxes than some of the things inside them.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on August 8, 2010 at 6:44 AM (PDT)

19

There are a few more considerations than just simply the amount of material that is used in this packaging.

Consumers buy nicely packaged products over those that aren’t; that is an fact.

If a product doesn’t sell well, the cost of development, all the time energy, resources, money, material to manufacture the product in efficient quantities, shipping, advertising, etc, etc is wasted.

It is time consuming (waste) and actually more expensive (waste) to create packaging and items to assemble that are very small.

To manufacture small (packaging) items can actually result in more wasted material in production because of trimming, etc.

Most of the time it just doesn’t make any sense to risk massive amounts of capital, time, energy, potential sales, etc to save a couple pennies worth of packaging.

Posted by John on August 19, 2010 at 9:34 AM (PDT)

20

Well companies that always ship and package their products with tons of waste normally aren’t so popular. Especially in the case of iPod accessories.

Things like cases, screen protector, and headphones only need minimal packaging. This is proven effective for Apple, so why won’t their accessory makers follow them?

Companies that don’t do this are more well known (incase, belkin, etc). Although they can step it up even further, saving money.

When will they follow Apple packaging trends? Says me, a 15yr old. I’m going to buy the 2010 iPod touch and i bet packaging is minimalist.

Posted by Steven on September 2, 2010 at 1:18 AM (PDT)

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