The Checkout

Problem Packaging

So how many scars do you have from opening up those hard plastic shells that seem to surround almost everything we buy these days, whether it's toothbrushes, electronic gear or toys? I've got quite a few. I've also had my share of messes when I've tried to open some of those cereal and chips bags as well.

Well, the latest issue of Consumer Reports is handing out "Oyster Awards" for America's hardest-to open packages. (Consumer Reports requires payment to read this.) The winner is the hard-plastic clamshell around Uniden's digital cordless phone set. It took 9 minutes, 22 seconds to open the set, which has 14 pieces, with rivets between each. The phone package wasn't the longest to open, but it was the most dangerous because the edges were so sharp.

The package that took the longest to open (and won second place) was American Idol Barbie, which took 15 minutes, 10 seconds to get loose thanks to the twisting wires, snapping rubber bands, stripping tape, etc. "Most of the job had to be done carefully by hand, with help from a single-edge razor blade." Scary thought for a kid's toy!

The magazine also singles out disc and game packaging, pills in blister packs and cereal boxes for its oyster dishonors. It does provide some hope on better alternatives, including the coffee can; many now come with peel-back foil lids, no longer creating a dangerous sharp edge that comes with a can opener.

Got any packaging tales--good or bad? If so, let me know at thecheckout@washpost.com

P.S. A couple of my colleagues have just forwarded their suggestions about how to open those pesky clamshells. One swears by poultry shears, saying they can cut anything, even excess carpeting. And when they fail, the other colleague says he turns to tin snips--strong enough to cut sheet metal, let alone inflexible plastic.

By  |  February 7, 2006; 9:20 AM ET Consumer News
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Comments

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Fisher Price toys have horrible packaging -- it always takes a lot of time and effort (along with scrached hands) to cut through the shell and then undo all of the wires, cut the tape, and sometimes you even need a screwdriver to unscrew parts of the toys from the packaging! I am now trying to avoid Fisher Price toys.

Posted by: Elena | February 7, 2006 11:35 AM

To open those annoying packages, try this product. It's not perfect, but it does work.

Posted by: dl004d | February 7, 2006 12:20 PM

I forgot the link: http://www.myopenx.com/home.htm

Posted by: dl004d | February 7, 2006 12:20 PM

After a few months, I can open Prilosec pill blister packs fairly readily. For the first few weeks, I usually resorted to scissors.

Unveiling a new mens' shirt, with all its little pins, is still a mess. Pricey Charles Tyrwhitt (ctshirts.com) has found an alternative--little paperclip-like devices that are much easier to remove.

Posted by: Dave | February 7, 2006 2:21 PM

Thanks for the great story about impossible-to-open packaging. I recently bought an MP3 player that was housed in one of those indestructable plastic containers. The thing was in there tighter than Mick Jagger's pants at the Super Bowl halftime show. I finally resorted to using a chicken boning knife to get at it. Every part of my body was involved as I wrestled with the package. In the ensuing struggle, I wound up stabbing myself in my left palm. I looked like I had Stigmata. Nonetheless, I had a sense of accomplishment by springing the device from the package. Bloody, yes. But free!

Posted by: KeyBlake | February 7, 2006 3:05 PM

As a user of blood thiners, I'm often terrified of cutting myself with these things.

But, what I truly resent about the new hard packaging is that I can not thoroughly examine the product that I am considering. Recently I was at Home Depot. I was at the shelf ripping open the plastic container and I was repremanded by a clerk. I replied that I could do it here and know whether or not the product met my needs, or take it home and cut off the monsterous packaging and discover that the thing does not meet my needs and then waste my time (and theirs) returning the item for exchange or refund. There’s gotta be a better way!

Posted by: David In Dallas | February 7, 2006 3:43 PM

This kind of packaging has been a pet peeve of my for a long time. I've often wondered if there was a class-action suit I could join after injuring myself trying to get to a product I legally bought and paid for. Even if you don't cut yourself with whatever implement can cut through all that plastic, you're bound to cut yourself on the plastic edge itself. Is the average packaging designer truly that sadistic?

Posted by: CM | February 7, 2006 4:42 PM

It broke my heart when I broke a Wacky Races car in 1972 because the packaging was wrapped around the axles too tightly.

I still have issues with packaging to this very day.

Posted by: Bigg Al | February 7, 2006 6:11 PM

I used to buy a new Discman about once a year and would often bloody my fingers opening the packaging and extracting the player. I recently bought an iPod and was pleased to find that it came in easy to open cardboard box and slip cover. The whole experience was night and day. I now find it hard to believe I purchased so many iterations of a product whose packaging actually injured me.

Posted by: Discman vs iPod | February 7, 2006 7:10 PM

The best tool I've found is the Amazing OpenX: http://www.myopenx.com/home.htm. It opens those hard plastic shells like it was cutting through butter.

Posted by: TheNash | February 7, 2006 9:58 PM

I love the panda peanut butter puff cereal from Trader Joes, so sue me. But that cellophane type of wrapping material .... argh! I suggest the use of scissors to open the cereal wrapping, or you will be heartbroken to see your tasty treat spilled all over the Betty Fredien waxed floors.

Posted by: Cereal Lover | February 8, 2006 9:25 AM

Get "paramedic scissors"; ask for them at your local drugstore or medical supply place. Thay're also referred to as "bandage scissors", and occasionally "Hospital scissors". They run a tiny bit over ten bucks. They are mass produced (every EMT in the country has a few pair) so unlike the "specialist" toy-openers you actually get what you pay for.

Like tin snips, they will cut through about anything, including a penny ig you have the hand strength. Unlike tin snips, they're affordable and designed for non-metalworkers to use. Plastic cutting is no problem at all for them. And if you ever need to cut stuff off of an injured person they can't be beat!

Posted by: Erik Hammarlund | February 8, 2006 2:27 PM

Hey, I wonder if the sales team from OpenX has any thoughts on this topic? And maybe a handy link to a Web site.

Posted by: Arlo | February 9, 2006 12:23 PM

With all the bad things written I just had to post this comment. I know its difficult to open many products especially toys. In fact I did a segment on NBC about that very subject. But there is one important thing to keep in mind: without a package you wouldn't have a product to open.

Posted by: JoAnn Hines Packaging Diva | February 9, 2006 1:13 PM

Regarding those plastic clamshells, it is the rise of the superstore (WalMart, Staples, Best Buy, Home Depot, etc.), with their miles of unattended, self-serve aisles, that has spurred the trend toward impenetrable packaging. Since electronic security strips are attached to packaging, popping products out of easy-open packages made it simple for shoplifters to stroll beeplessly out the front door. Solution? Make it frigging impossible to get the product out of the package. It's actually ingenious if you think about it--passing the savings AND the inconvenience on to the customer.

Posted by: knowledge hisself | February 10, 2006 7:29 PM

At Christmas I was the pleased recipient of an electronic gizmo, guaranteed to make life easier. The various parts were not only enclosed together in one large clamshell, but each of the individual elements was contained in addition mini-clamshells. While going through an increasing number of tools, first knives, razor blades, progressing finally to tinsnips, it occurred to me that one could in the process accidentally (or intentionally) cut one's wrists on the sharp plastic edges, then sue the company for millions, provided one could get to the local ER in time.

Posted by: Marilyn, Denver | February 24, 2006 11:45 AM

I bought the PYRANNA. Works great for all plastic packages. Very easily slides down the side and cuts the edge right off. I bought it from the website, www.pyranna.com. Best invention in ages for opening these packages and more. I use it to open all sorts of food bags as well, no more spillage.

Posted by: Rick | February 28, 2006 6:13 PM

A few weeks ago I ordered the Pyranna from their website www.pyranna.com

It works great...it's a quality tool that's well worth the $10.

I wish I had found out about it for Christmas. Would have made a great stocking stuffer. I'm not going to wait till next Christmas...I've already ordered one for my parents.

Posted by: chris | March 7, 2006 8:58 PM

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