1989 was the year of the Basel Convention, officially named the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. An international treaty designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, it is meant to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. It does not address radioactive waste. As of 2020, the United States signed, but never ratified the treaty. A 1989 board game, NIMBY “The Game of Toxic Waste,” was custom made in a signed limited edition of 25 copies, to dramatize and satirize this topic. The game was a gift to The Strong in 2019.
The donor’s father managed a Texas oil refinery and it’s likely the game’s designer, also a Texan, had ties to that industry. Scholars cite 1980 as the year the acronym NIMBY, meaning “not in my back yard,” was coined, although some believe the phrase, minus the acronym, appeared earlier in the toxic waste disposal industry. The game’s play resembles Monopoly, except the winner is the player who can transport and remove barrels of toxic waste—represented by black plastic barrels carried in the beds of clever plastic pickup truck pawns―for the least amount of money. A player can achieve that objective by legal (safer) or illegal (riskier) means. The game is loaded with realistic hazards such as rough roads (slower progress), weigh stations (full stop, perhaps a bribe?), and speed traps. In play, taking risks by breaking the law is likely to result in a cheaper, faster victory. The game thumbs its satirical nose at NIMBYs and NIMBYism.
Politics aside, the designer created an attractive game which is probably a blast to play. In gaming, who doesn’t like to pretend to outsmart the law? And I call the game board a vision in (petroleum-based) vinyl. I also learned plenty of pejorative acronyms after a quick search for NIMBY on Wikipedia. Not to mention the toxicity problems nations still face, such as the June 2019 explosions at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex. Are you ready for a sneaky, snarky, satirical game of NIMBY? Not in my back yard!
Article written by Nicolas Ricketts, Curator, The Strong National Museum of Play