Thursday, January 01, 2009


Ah the holidays, when presents are given and received and mom has to get out her tool box on Christmas morn’ in order to free bound toys from impregnable packaging while impatient little ones bounce up and down, not understanding why mama is hacking away at their new toy with saws and hammers. I just love these holiday traditions; memories in the making indeed. Why oh why do manufactures find it necessary to bind up all of a doll’s limbs plus sew its hair to the box and then cover the entire thing in hard lethal plastic? Is this kind of toy torture really needed in order for it to arrive safely into my home only to then have its limbs pulled and stretched and possibly broken in order to free it from its anger provoking packaging? Somewhere there is an engineer who for some reason decided that each one-inch high-plastic Pet Shop critter must be bound and held down with no less than four plastic coated wire twist ties that are then fed through a heavy plastic washer which is then taped down, covered in hard plastic and boxed over. Seriously?

Each toy that my two daughters received last week required me to use all of the following from my toolbox: pliers, wire cutters, heavy duty scissors, both Phillips and regular screw drivers (because some items were actually screwed down with metal screws), saw, and work gloves to protect my hands from the inevitable razor sharp edges of the clam shell packaging. When one finally succeeds in freeing a toy, you are then surrounded by an amazingly large and lethal pile of debris. It is amazing the amount of packaging that is deemed required for each poor toy victim that you lay before your child. Santa apparently has not gone green in his workshop yet. And heaven forbid that a little one get a hold of a piece of that clam shell plastic, it could take a finger off, forget putting little Ralphie’s eye out with a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle, he could loose one just trying to get at the thing. In fact, a guy I used to work with last year, in his attempts to open something packaged this way ended up accidentally putting the knife he was using through the palm of his hand and not only did he receive a very impressive through and through knife wound, but also nicked an artery which required surgery and physical therapy. Every year in the USA there are an estimated 6,000 Americans sent to the emergency room with injuries caused by their attempts to free their purchases from clamshells according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. There is even an industry term for the frustration felt among consumers at this; it’s called “wrap rage”. Plus, there is an award given by Consumer Reports each year for the product packaging most frustrating to open. Okay, when something becomes so prevalent that an entire industry has coined a term for it and is handing out awards, it is time to make some changes! In addition, there are also sustainability and recycling issues to address, many clamshell packages are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that is difficult to recycle and is certainly not bio-degradable.

But there is hope on the horizon, Microsoft, Sony and all have projects in the works to try and eliminate the clamshell from their products, but they predict that it will be many a year before we are successfully rid of the clamshell. At least someone in the industry has recognized the problem and is seeking a solution, that’s encouraging.

DVDs and CDs are another product that is way over packaged, what could be the sense in taping down all sides of the case the CD comes in, then shrink wrapping it. First you must cut through the wrapping, scratching the case in the process, and then each of those stupid little sticky tapes has to be peeled from three sides of the hinged case. Same goes for the cases that DVDs come in; scissors, knives and aggravation are all employed to open them. Do I really need this much frustration to get to my entertainment? I own an IPod and so most of the time I purchase my music via the internet, but it was kind of hard for Santa to wrap up a download, hence the store purchases, won’t be doing that again anytime soon if I can help it.

If it is a matter of trying to thwart thievery and protect the product in shipping, why not create a sturdy re-usable clear plastic container that can be removed easily at the store once purchased. Like those plastic security tags they put on clothing. Much more consumer friendly and also solves the recycling dilemma; they could be made collapsible so that they can be shipped back to the manufacture for re-use.

And in the case of toys, why can’t just one stretchy rubber band type thingy hold the toy in place, it really does not need to be pinned so viciously to its box…or like in the movie Toy Story do the toys come alive when we aren’t looking and these are just measures taken so that they don’t escape before being purchased? Hmmm, better not mention that one to my 8 year old; she has always been disturbed by toys that can move and talk on their own as it is. We were in Home Depot yesterday checking out the after holiday sales and I was pondering some of those little lit houses that were marked down practically to nothing. I was thinking about getting the gazebo and making just a tiny little winter display. I was checking out the little people that you can buy to surround your festive scene when Lily cries, “No, don’t get those, they give me creeps!” “Why, dear, would these ‘give you creeps?’” “I don’t know, they just do. They make noise, they turn in circles, and they make me not want to eat.” Okay, that’s weird. I got the gazebo anyway; it does not move or make noise, so I think it’s safe, although she still claims she won’t be able to eat if she has to look at those little people. Odd.

In addition to CDs and toys, just about everything is over wrapped, including food. Okay, I understand wanting to keep food tamper-proof; I don’t want anything in there that wasn’t suppose to be there any more than the next girl, but excessive packaging also makes my food edible-proof as well as tamper-proof. Take a simple bottle of ketchup for instance, first you must cut through the shrink wrap, then that band that goes around the neck of the bottle, THEN you have to break the seal on the cap, take it off and pull off that other seal that covers the bottle opening. Sometimes it has a little tab on the top that usually works pretty well to aid in pulling it off, but not if your hands are wet or greasy, and not if that seal lacks the tab to help you, you will then need pliers to get a good grip or resort to knives again. Even a bag of chips or a box of cereal requires a pair of scissors because whatever material is used to contain the goods cannot be ripped with bare hands. The only product that I have found that doesn’t seem to be overly packaged and is easy to get into is a box of band-aides…nice of them, they must have known we’d be in need.

And so, during this merry season, I arm myself against that plastic monster called the clamshell and his impenetrable friends and I attempt to remain calm while answering repeated questions from little ones about when they can actually play with their new toys. I live in hope for all our sakes that a better alternative is found soon. And to the makers of band-aids – thank you! Please, please, please, continue to keep your packaging simple, we're gonna need those bandages, it's a tradition!

KKW ©2008


MKBookWorks said...

One word: "Open IT" on Amazon about $10 - it literally opens everything!! I am loving this tool - cuts through those annoying twist ties, cslices through the bubble plastic, has 2 screwdrives to insert batteries and comes with a built in box cutter!

I neither own stock nor work for the co. just another Mom trying to get the toys opened quicker!

Mom to EFP & EBB

tumbleintodreams said...

I bought Cami a doll from Amazon that came with a "plain brown box" option. Instead of the pink and showy doll display, the doll came in brown cardboard. We just took her out (easily) and displayed her under the tree ourselves. And get this....doll sold for $68, but if you show to forgo the packaging like I did, she cost $37. How much are we paying for all that trash!!!???
Great Post!