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Plastic package? Hand me the scissors

Sometimes life gives us lessons sent in ridiculous packaging. - Dar Williams 


It might have been the popcorn that sent me over the edge. Or maybe it was the sinus pill. It could have been the day I nearly amputated my hand trying to free some batteries from their hard plastic clamshell case. Sometimes you never know which straw broke the camel’s back, which package drove the poor person attempting to open it to despair. 


I’m not talking about the way you folks used to wrap your packages at the post office, either, although you gave me some moments when you mailed grandma’s fine crystal in the shoe box with string tied around it.  And the “Mexican fish” mailed from south of the border should have been sent overnight and I wouldn’t have had to set the box outside until you picked it up.


What is driving me crazy is the way American companies are packaging their products. 


Take the popcorn, for instance. I won’t mention any brand names to avoid nasty encounters like the one with the Co-Co Puffs attorneys. Although this incident happened years ago, the trauma still remains. The popcorn looked like any other microwave popcorn until it had finished popping. Then it became evident that I was the guinea pig for an innovation called the “Pop-up Bowl.” And I became aware that I should have read the directions on the bag before it began popping and became 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit with steam shooting out the corners. 


The bag had expanded into a bowl with a cover over it. After burning fingers on both hands trying to tear the cover off, I hit upon a simple, tried and true method often overlooked by the popcorn industry: Scissors. 


The next time I popped a bag, I had a moment of weakness and read the instructions. All I had to do when the bowl finished expanding and the corn was popped was to pull the “easy open tabs.” The easy open tabs finally came off in a cloud of steam when I cut the cover off with the easy open scissors. 


Scissors seem to be the method chosen by most of us to free the contents of our packages. My sinus pills come in twos in a little package that says to “bend corner and pull.” When this doesn’t work — and believe me, you have to have the fingernails of a Baboon to pull the cover off this devious package — the instructions say, “…or use scissors.” 


Now most times when I need a sinus pill, I am not in the vicinity of a pair of scissors. I do usually have my teeth with me and can gnaw the package, which seems to be the second most popular way to open today’s packages. 


The most frustrating packaging is the so-called oyster or clamshell products. These can include cordless phones, batteries, headsets, printer cartridges, electric toothbrushes and other gadgets. Oyster packaging consists of clear, tight fitting, hard as steel plastic encasing the product and deterring shoplifting. It also deters access to the product. 


It’s impossible to open these cases with your bare hands, even if you’re the Hulk. Tin snips will open them as will poultry shears and chainsaws. Axes are also useful. Consumer Reports conducted a test and found that it took nine minutes and 22 seconds to open one of these clamshells encasing a digital cordless phone set and that, once open, the sharp edges of the hard plastic posed a safety hazard. 


It’s estimated that almost 7,000 emergency room visits a year are related to plastic packaging, mostly people slicing themselves with box cutters or stabbing themselves with screwdrivers trying to wrestle a product from its protective case. 


Some toys come encased with twisting wires, snapping rubber bands and tape. Consumer Reports found that it took over 15 minutes to release a Barbie from her box with the help of a screwdriver. 


Unwrapping a dress shirt will test your patience. The dress shirt industry is bound to be the only reason the straight pin cartel stays in business. There must be 12-14 straight pins in every dress shirt, not to mention cardboard inserts, tissue paper and tags on strings. 


And who can tell me why men’s suit jackets come with the pockets sewn together? 


Cereal boxes and bags of chips must be extremely difficult to fill because they are invariably three-quarters full. You’d think with our technology that we could fill a potato chip bag to the very top. But technology cannot cope with gravity and the fact that “some settling may occur.” It’s probably industry’s next great challenge to solve the problem of settling. 


Even with cereal boxes not nearly full, I still manage to spill half the box trying to tear into the cellophane bag inside. And when I do tear it, I manage to rip it so cereal spills out the side when I try to pour it into the bowl. 


Another irritating packaging trend is that of the copycats, store brands that look almost exactly like their name brand competitors. 


Soap used to weigh four and a half ounces; now it weighs four. Same size package, though. And the earrings you order come in a foot long box, full of those Styrofoam peanuts. 


I know we have to have packaging, but I just wish they’d make a fruit cup that doesn’t squirt all over my shirt when I try to peel the top off.