SIE recently reported on the progress of the United Nations ‘Playing for the Planet’ Alliance of which SIE is cited as "been a key player in this project". So far the headlines have revolved around power consumption on the PlayStation platform and the company committed to "PlayStation 4 energy efficiency measures that will result in around 30 million metric tons of avoided carbon equivalent emissions by 2030".
Naturally everyone wants an efficient console as traditionally that translates into a nice quiet console too, but taking a step back from power consumption for a moment, isn't there a very easy way the company could potentially reduce billions of plastic objects even being produced?
Prior to the PlayStation 5 being released we reached out to our contacts at Sony to ask about the packaging for it's upcoming console and whether they had made any changes to make it greener and reduce their amount of single use plastic. While they did initially reply and accept some questions from us things soon went silent and we've never had answers back. Sad face.
The good news though is that on the face of it the packaging for the PS5 console and peripherals does seem to be made up of more cardboard and less plastic compared to the same products in the PlayStation 4 range. We call that progress.
However, one glaringly obvious area that hasn't changed is the games and the cases/packaging they come in. Blu-ray cases on PS5 are identical to those of the past and still come in their plastic shrink wrapping which to our understanding isn't recyclable.
With each console cycle generating in excess of one billion retail game sales we must be looking at around 6-8 billion plastic game cases across all of PlayStation's platforms over the years. Roughly one plastic game case per human alive today. That's a lot of cases and a lot of shrink wrap. Those numbers don't even factor in the unsold games either.
Blu-ray cases are reportedly made of recyclable materials, but aren't simple to actually recycle and because they aren't biodegradable will be around for literately centuries.
Thankfully alternatives do exist. Last year iam8bit released a 'Lovely Edition' of Untitled Goose Game which featured biodegradable shrink wrap and a completely sustainably sourced paper based case which is 100 per cent recyclable using non-toxic inks. Prior to that Sports Interactive released Football Manager 2020 on PC with equally recyclable packaging made from recycled materials saving 20 tonnes of plastic from their "relatively small" print run alone.
While we were waiting for Sony to respond to our original questions we managed to speak to both Amanda White and Jon M. Gibson, Co-Owner/Co-Creative Director of iam8bit and Miles Jacobson, Studio Director of Sports Interactive, who wrote an open letter about the issue, about their creations:
Push Square: What was the main driving force behind your eco-friendly packaging?
Amanda & Jon: We wanted to get the conversation started. iam8bit always strives to try new things – things that others deem too “risky” – since much of that associated “risk” has to do with profit. For us, business isn’t about squeezing every single penny of profit that you can just to put cheap junk out into the world. We’d rather spend a few extra bucks to create something of quality, while at the same time making a difference.
The reason why you don’t see a bunch of other eco-friendly products in the marketplace is because it’s more expensive to make than standard packaging.
This is exactly why we wanted to get the conversation started, because once enough consumers and publishers become excited about the idea of eco-friendly packaging, prices will be driven down to the degree that they are viable for the global mass market.
It’s merely the first step in a marathon. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re excited that people are now talking about eco-friendly alternatives.
Miles: Very simple – it’s for companies to lead and educate on being more eco-friendly as if we don’t do anything, we make it hard for consumers to do things. And the planet and humanity are good things that I don’t want to see vanish when there are lots of simple things that can be done to help.
Did you have a memorable eureka moment whilst developing your packaging?
Amanda & Jon: One of the hardest elements of this was finding 1:1 matches for the standard issue materials already on the market. For instance, take something as seemingly simple as the paper stock used for a foldout poster. Finding a post-consumer paper stock that absorbs eco-friendly inks well, but that also feels similar to other posters? That isn’t as easy as it sounds. We went through a ton of samples and tests before we found one that got that “WOOHOO!” from the iam8bit production team.
Miles: The most complicated part was shrink-wrap. It’s a necessary component from a retail perspective, and there aren’t a lot of good options out there as the recycled/recyclable options are more expensive.
Which part of the packaging are you most proud of?
Amanda & Jon: Honestly, another really tricky part, but one that results in some much elation, was finding an eco-friendly shrink wrap that worked. Think about it - how much waste comes from the very basic sheet of clear plastic that envelopes pretty much any product you’ve ever opened.
The problem with eco-friendly alternatives to standard shrink wrap is that they don’t play well with standard assembly line machinery. We went through a lot of trial and error with our fulfilment partner to figure out the best method for applying it, because it was pretty damn cantankerous.
But once it finally worked, after weeks of adjustments, that was a moment we all celebrated.
Miles: Actually, not part of the packaging itself, but a side effect of it – the transportation environmental costs were cheaper because the packaging itself is lighter and you can fix more in a box. So not only is the whole package recycled & recyclable but it saved on CO2 in other areas too.
What has the response been like from the gaming community?
Amanda & Jon: It’s been awesome - absolutely awesome! Everyone has been really supportive, from the fans to the first parties.
We spent over a year developing this first iteration of eco-friendly packaging, quietly toiling without fans knowing a thing. So coming out of that bubble after a year and receiving such a positive reaction - we couldn’t be happier, both personally and for the planet.
Miles: Almost universally positive – on announce there were a few complaints about how it would look in their collection, but because we made the spine dimensions almost identical to the previous spine, it still looks lovely. There is an approx. 2mm difference in dimensions, which is pretty much unnoticeable.
How much more expensive is the packaging to manufacture than traditional packaging? Do you think it’s possible to drive down that price?
Amanda & Jon: It definitely costs more – several dollars more – but the reality of that is due to the supply chain. Recycled and eco-friendly materials aren’t in high demand, which simply makes them more expensive to produce. It’s basic math; the more you can make, the cheaper it gets.
The most effective way of driving prices down is to amplify the popularity of eco-friendly materials. If consumers DEMAND that other publishers action, using recycled and biodegradable alternatives to standard materials, that means that more of those materials have to be made. Eventually, you hit a tipping point where so many companies want to use this cool, eco-conscious stuff, that – suddenly – the costs become comparable to the current standard.
That doesn’t happen overnight, though; it takes YEARS. That’s exactly why we decided to have a go at it. Someone’s got to get the party started.
Miles: 22c (Euro cents). And yes, if more people were doing it then that cost would go down. Hopefully over time they will, but that still requires people to accept the initial cost hit.
What encouragement have you had from platform holders to create environmentally friendly packaging?
Amanda & Jon: The first parties have been incredibly encouraging. We couldn’t have done this without their official support. You’ll be happy to know that at the highest levels of the first parties, eco-friendly conversations are happening, and we’re jazzed to be a part of that ongoing dialogue.
Miles: I know that both Microsoft and Sony take their responsibilities in this area very seriously and are members of the Playing for the Planet group set up by the UN Environment Agency. But you’d need to ask them about any future plans…
Do you think platform holders should be doing more to promote/encourage environmentally friendly packaging?
Amanda & Jon: By nature of our eco-friendly packaging even existing, platform holders ARE supporting it. Nintendo, PlayStation, Microsoft - they have the ability to stop things like this from happening, but instead, they have been nothing but “thumbs up” and enthusiastic about our efforts, in hopes that it will also inspire others to join the crusade.
Playing for the Planet is an incredible initiative, led by the UN, that shows that so many video game publishers and first parties are dedicated to making all of the industry’s output a much more Earth-forward endeavor.
Miles: Absolutely – but then I believe every company out there should be, and that even those of us that are making a big effort aren’t doing enough.
How would you encourage other publishers to do the same and use environmentally friendly packaging?
Amanda & Jon: Get off your butts and do the hard work. It’s not easy to innovate. It requires internal championing and patience. It means not accepting “No’s” and continuing to push forward, no matter how much of a challenge that poses. Complacency is a planet killer, and being proactive is the only remedy.
iam8bit is also here to help. The first step is reaching out and asking.
Miles: SEGA are freely sharing information about our packaging so that people can do the same – and I’ve spent the last year shouting from the rooftops about it to anyone who will listen, which will continue!
Thanks to iam8bit and Sports Interactive the evidence is there that it's possible. You could easily argue that physical retail games are potentially winding down anyway, is it feasible to suggest that PS6 will be wholly digital? Potentially, but let's assume it isn't, combined with PS5 that will be another decade or more of plastic cases being produced with unnecessary shrink wrap.
The readers of this website are likely skewed to collectors, those who take care of their game cases as little bits of personal treasure — this writer included. But that isn't everyone, and what happens to our collections in 30, 40, 50 years time? The museums only need a handful of copies of each game and the rest will be starting to decay wherever they rest, most likely in a CeX warehouse.
Coming back to the question posed in the title of this article, "Could PlayStation do more to promote green packaging?" Almost certainly. Imagine the statement it would have made if all PS5 game cases were required to be 100% biodegradable. The preverbal boat may have been missed this generation, as it's unlikely to introduce such a rule mid-generation, which is a shame. Whoever blinks first, either Sony, Microsoft or even Nintendo will cause waves for the others to follow suit.
Thanks to iam8bit and Sports Interactive for answering our questions. Are you bothered by being a green gamer? Would you consider buying environmentally friendly packaging if it were available? Let us know in the comments below: