When on the topic of plastics in consumerist culture we often think of plastic bags, excessive packaging, and once used drink bottles. Many companies have tried to reduce their carbon footprint (and jump on the “go green” trend) by using vegetable based compostable plastic alternatives like corn starch. I remember when these were big a few years ago there was a general consensus of distaste towards these products. Complaints revolved around the firmness of the new materials like “the chip bag is too loud now” and “this bottle is too stiff.” Although I knew it was for the greater environmental good, I was even bothered by the changes based on touch sensation and the lack of flexibility in the materials. It makes you think about how accustomed we are to these plastics. Aside from the product itself, we develop attachments and rituals to the packaging as well. I recall that my distaste for the way the corn starch bottle felt in my grip or the way the chip bag pulled apart made the product inside also less appealing in my immediate reaction. After the brief moment of consumerist entitlement I of course came to my senses and told myself “Wow, this is messed up…I’m brainwashed” and continued purchasing the compostable plastic alternative packaging.
I didn’t realize until today, after reading a few articles about LEGO committing to the product development of sustainable, non-petroleum product blocks, that this corn starch packaging is completely gone. I assume that I wasn’t the only consumer who was off-put by the packaging changes, because I can’t remember the last time I encountered one of these products since I’ve been in college. While most articles regarding the LEGO changes praised the green commitment, one in particular (aptly titled “Sorry, But the Perfect Lego Brick May Never Be Eco-Friendly”) brought up the inevitable consumer push-back of these changes. While everyone is theoretically on board with all-green products, in practice, these changes will alter the “perfect” LEGO experience. The chemical nature of the petro-based polymers is what allows the blocks to achieve that satisfying “perfect fit.” They are known for their ability to click into place and create their trademark seamless structures. All plant-based alternatives, according to the critic, would make the materials too rigid to achieve the seamlessness, non-warped product that LEGO is known for. Although LEGO has committed $15o mil and 15 years of product development to create their new product, the thought of any downgrades from LEGO’s tactile perfection would be like putting out an off-brand product. The writer suggested a campaign to simply pass-down LEGOs generationally, as opposed to even trying the new product. I didn’t grow up in the LEGO religion, but I get it–as a consumer who has experienced tactile distaste, I couldn’t imagine naturally downgrading. I would probably just subconsciously boycott it and move on–and that is a disturbing thought! It makes me wonder, as more information about the hazards of plastics in our daily lives surfaces, what will it take to make our consumerist culture prefer safety and ethics to satisfaction?