Hard to open

Posted Nov. 09, 2008, at 7:19 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 3:26 a.m.

Deterring shoplifting is important, but there must be better ways than the wasteful, and sometimes dangerous, packaging around toys, electronics and other products. Sadly, things will get worse in the approaching holiday season, resulting in broken fingernails and maybe even chipped teeth.

The worst ones are sealed in heavy plastic. Without tools, it can be impossible to open them. Especially hard to manage are plastic-covered toys and games that include small parts. The trouble is that once you have cut or pried off the main cover the little items can fly all over the room. Or, myriad parts are tied down with lengths of thread.

A common complaint involves those childproof plastic pill bottles, which are often adultproof as well. The instructions sometimes say to press down while turning the lid counterclockwise. Do you turn around and do the Hokey Pokey before or after the counterclockwise spin?

Consumer Reports, always ready for such a difficulty, includes pliers, bolt cutters and hacksaws as helpful tools in tackling tough packaging. In its annual Oyster Awards last year, it gave first place to a hard-plastic clamshell housing a powered toothbrush.

Why are so many packages so hard to crack? Consumer Reports says to blame crooks, in part. It cites a pilferage loss estimate of more than $25 million a day by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention. Federal safety laws require the annoying pill bottles. Products from abroad have to survive shipping hazards. And manufacturers know that children like plastic covers so that they can see the actual toys and not just pictures.

The organization quotes Kay Cooksey, associate professor in Clemson University’s Department of Packaging Science, as saying that industry sees packaging as a necessary evil, so that manufacturers spend as little as possible on it, even at the expense of usability.

So when the holidays come, you will still have to go after those packages with tooth and nail.

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