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The CD Long Box: Victim or Villain?

July 08, 1990|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Is it time to put the CD long box on the endangered species list?

Maybe it's too early to predict the demise of the unpopular--and unwieldy--long box, which has become an industry-wide eco-embarrassment. But long-box opponents are on the offensive:

* Saying he's received thousands of letters from outraged consumers, Ban the Box founder Robert Simonds, who runs Rykodisc Records, is touting a plan encouraging record buyers to remove long boxes and leave empty cartons with register clerks at local record stores.

* The Ban the Box coalition has received "pledges of support" from dozens of new rock star partisans, including David Byrne, the B-52's, the Replacements' Paul Westerberg, 10,000 Maniacs, John Hiatt, Rosanne Cash, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Lenny Kravitz.

* Perhaps the most encouraging news is that long-box printer and paper manufacturers are feeling so much pressure that they've begun a lobbying counter-offensive. Worried that record labels are considering plans to junk the boxes, paper and printing companies have formed the Entertainment Packaging Assn. (EPA), which recently gave record execs a three-page fact sheet designed to promote the long box's positive attributes.

(Among its claims, the fact sheet says that long boxes are "environmentally friendly"; that it is a "myth" that American forests are "being abused" like Brazilian rain forests and that eliminating CD packaging, which constitutes "less than .00006 of the weight of all garbage produced annually in the U.S.," would extend the life of a landfill "by less than one hour every year.")

"We think the (long-box) has been unjustly maligned," says Floyd Glinert, EPA head and executive vice president of Shorewood Packaging, a leading New York-based paper-printing firm.

"There's been a lot of overkill on this whole issue--it's become almost unpatriotic to say you're not in favor of recycling. So after all the coverage during Earth Day, we felt that our side of the story wasn't being told. The bottom line is that long boxes represent an infinitesimal percentage of the solid-waste garbage in this country."

Meanwhile, Tower Records chief Russ Solomon--who in April dismissed environmental concerns, saying he was "adamantly opposed" to ditching the long box--is changing his tune. While he still insists that long boxes are "the industry's most practical packaging tool," the owner of the influential 55-store chain now boasts that clerks at Tower's L.A. and Seattle stores are encouraging consumers to leave long-box trash at the cash registers.

"We've had a tremendous positive response," said the shift manager at Tower's Sunset Strip store. "We're unloading 40 to 50 20-gallon bags full of long boxes every day, which we're sending to a recycling center in Santa Monica. I'd say that nearly 75% of the customers are leaving their long boxes. And most people who don't are buying CDs as gifts."

Tower stores will also soon offer consumers the choice between bags made out of recyclable plastic or paper. Is it possible Solomon has suddenly made the leap onto rock's eco-bandwagon? "I guess I'm more open-minded than I was a few months ago," he said. "We live in the real world and I listen to what people say--and they're saying we have to be more ecology conscious. Even my own store clerks have been bitching at me and writing me nasty letters!"

Ban the Box's Simonds is hoping his eco-offensive will encourage other record store owners to see the light. "It's a dramatic method for consumers to show retailers where they stand on CD packaging--and transfer some of the consequences of the long box to record store owners," said Simonds, who began his campaign earlier this year. "It's also a way of reminding them that all this trash isn't out of sight and out of mind, because the trash is going into their dumpsters."

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