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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.