I am not a Christian (not now, not ever) but I have always liked Christmas. It’s my favorite (secular) holiday and when the time comes (Christmas Eve or Christmas Day) we Reveres will likely write our traditional Christmas post explaining just why we aren’t the obligatory curmudgeons on the issue. But that’s for then. There is something I really hate about Christmas, although it’s not really about Christmas specifically. It is a public health problem and it’s probably worse on Christmas Day than any other day of the year. It’s clamshell packaging.
I thought about it (for the umpteenth time) when I heard Mrs. R. yelling (I won’t say cursing because you will get the wrong impression of a very ladylike person who is the love of my life) after sustaining minor injuries trying to extract some inconsequential item (a battery? a cable? can’t remember) that had been hermetically sealed in thick plastic. While minor her injuries (multiple tiny lacerations) were painful. Her yells were not yells of pain but rage. Wrap rage. I started to search on the web for more information and found plenty. Like this piece from The Washington Post:
This year, Consumer Reports magazine gave an award for the worst plastic clamshell packaging to a warehouse-store version of a Uniden cordless phone set: It took 9 minutes 22 seconds to unwrap completely and nearly caused injury to the person opening it. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, injuries from plastic packaging resulted in 6,400 visits to emergency rooms in 2004. (Margaret Webb Pressler, Washington Post)
I kept running across that same statistic and its source — 6400 visits to emergency rooms — but couldn’t track it down on the CPSC site. And the expected demise of the clamshell package was another frequent theme, like this from the same WaPo article:
Manufacturers can no longer ignore the soaring consumer complaints. The result, packaging experts say, is that this will be one of the last holiday seasons that require a box cutter.
Did I mention the WaPo piece was from the Christmas season? In 2006? They mention Consumer Reports, so we took a look at what Santa brought them the following Christmas season:
A sealed, hard-plastic clamshell housing a powered toothbrush takes top honors because of the tools, strength, time, and finesse required to extract the contents. Packaging for popular dolls comes in a close second because of the 50 twists, ties, and tapes that shackle the dolls to their plastic and cardboard prison.
Honorable mentions include a box of macaroni and cheese that crushed easily, a toy aircraft carrier with hard-to-liberate pieces, and plastic-encased light bulbs we were hard-pressed to extract without breaking the bulbs or slicing ourselves.
In fact, this year as last, we heard about cut and bloodied fingers, hands, and arms. And we heard from consumers with arthritis who struggled with simple tasks such as opening blister packs of pills, and those who used any implement at hand–pliers, kitchen shears, bolt-cutters, military issue can openers, hacksaws, files, teeth, and fingernails–to get the job done. (CR’s Oyster Awards, the hard-to-open-packaging hall of shame).
The reason for the clamshell, we learned, is to prevent “shrinkage.” You mean batteries shrink if left uncovered? “Shrinkage,” we further learned is the retail industry’s term of art for “theft.” Hard-to-open packing is also claimed to protect toys on their long and tiring trip through the birth canal, which often starts in China. Don’t want any of that lead paint to chip off, do we? And what about its final moments before toy parturition?
We watched a 7-year-old as she attempted to liberate Bratz Sisterz dolls from their packaging. We gave her safety scissors, though she preferred using her hands. Eight minutes after she began, the child, noticeably agitated and breathing heavily, freed the dolls, which now looked as if they had just returned from a rough night on the town. Our young tester resorted to ripping the dolls from the packaging. The Sisterz were missing clumps of hair, and strings, plastic tabs, and wires were everywhere. Some of the wires remained stuck around the dolls? arms. (Consumer Reports)
That was 2007. The makers of Braatz Siterz dolls said the industry understood consumers were frustrated and the market was going to respond with easier packaging. Fast forward to last Christmas season (2008). In a story entitled, Packages You Won?t Need a Saw to Open, we read:
Sony, meanwhile, has started an ambitious internal project it optimistically calls ?death of the clamshell.? The electronics giant is developing three packaging prototypes it plans to test in the coming months at Best Buy and Wal-Mart Stores. One uses an adhesive that is easy to pry open but makes a loud Velcro-like noise ? intended to deter thieves.
Sony has even taken its anticlamshell campaign to its rank and file. At its annual sales and marketing meeting in April, held in Palm Desert, Calif., the company showed 1,200 employees a humorous video of four consumers struggling to open Sony products. One of them resorted to a hacksaw, another used his teeth and a third cut his finger. (Brad Stone And Matt Richtel, New York Times)
Hahahahaha. The day after last Christmas we found this story on an ABC-TV news station:
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, plastic packaging has caused more than 25,000 injuries since 2004.
The problem is not just the hard, clamshell like casing.
It is also what people are using to open up the packaging.
Scissors and knifes are the common implements people use.
The result isn?t always good said Dr. Robb Leigh, an ER physician at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix.
?They can inflict serious injuries, especially in hands,? said Dr. Leigh.
Ever year he treats injuries caused by people trying to open plastic clamshell packaging.
?They are definitely frustrated that it is so hard to open, which it shouldn?t be,? he said.
Dr. Leigh said some of the injuries are superficial, but some are more serious than they appear.
?A lot of times it is not really that minor,? he said. ?You can cut through the top of the fingers like a millimeter or two and already be down to the tendons. So, it?s not that hard to reach that.?
CPSC injury reports show a Phoenix woman ?cut herself? when the knife she was using to open a package ?slipped?.
In Santa Fe, a man tried using ?scissors, a kitchen knife, a box cutter and finally a butchers cleaver. The cleaver slipped and cut his hand. He required eight stitches.? (produced by Nicole Longhini, ABC15 [Phoenix, AZ])
What was different about this report was not the promise that things are getting better but the practical tips on how to open clamshell packaging. The first item, so appropriate for family togetherness as you gather around the tree to open your presents is this one: Always clear the area of people. It’s followed by advice to use heavy duty utility scissors with blunt tips while wearing protective gloves on both hands. Merry Christmas!
Appended to the tips on how to open your gift are the indications for when doing so should be followed by a trip to the emergency room. We bring them to you as a public service, courtesy Dr. Robb Leigh of Phoenix’s Good Samaritan Hospital and channel 15:
- Get your injury checked out if it?s to the back of the hand or arm.
- Usually the inside tips of the fingers are okay. Bandage the injury. If it doesn?t look good after awhile, go see your doctor.
- If you think you?ve cut a tendon, go to the ER.
- A deep injury to the palm can be dangerous, go to the ER.
- If you aren?t sure, don?t be embarrassed – ask your physician if the injury is serious.
We’ll get to the reasons why we like Christmas in a later post. Clamshell packaging isn’t one of them.