Health & Wellness / Opinion / Press Releases

Beware the Plastic Clamshell


WASHINGTON, DC, July 30 — Consumers are victims of a packaging industry so focused on protecting the goods they’re selling that they are ignoring the needs of buyers, particularly seniors.  Perhaps they are ignorant of the fact that shoppers of all ages are fed up with the agony of struggling to cut through the plastic wrapping used to protect goods such as razor blades, toys and even medications.  They’ve had it with child-proof pill containers.  And they reel against those directions and warnings on packages that are so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read them.

Surveys show that the packaging crisis is real.  One such poll of 2,000 consumers found that a large majority — 66% of them — say they “suffer from wrap rage” when they get home and try to open over-packaged goods.  Forty percent of them reported that they have hurt themselves in the process and 25% say they have had to use scissors, knives, screwdrivers and even hammers to get through the packaging.  Another survey found that 75% of respondents believed that packaging these days is harder than it needs to be and that 67% are downright “frustrated” by modern-day packaging.

It’s no contest.  Plastic clamshell packaging takes the cake when it comes to the “hard-to-open” category. 

Consumer Reports magazine used to have an annual feature focused on packaging.  In one of the last such articles it published were invariably those wrapped in clamshells: a toy that took more than 15 minutes to open; a cordless phone that took nine minutes to unpack; and a toothbrush “housed in a sealed, hard-plastic clamshell package and has such a tight fit between the plastic skin and cardboard that it was all but impossible to open with scissors. When the tester finally succeeded in opening the packaging her worktable was littered with sharp plastic shards.”

So why doesn’t the packaging industry heed the message and do away with clamshells?  It’s all about shoplifting.  Razor blades are packed in those plastic bubbles for that reason, notwithstanding the fact that most retailers keep them locked up, requiring store staff to personally hand over the merchandise.  After all, razor blades are small and easy to hide, they are expensive and, thus, are easy to sell in the black market.

There are other reasons plastic clamshells are preferred by retailers. 

They are see-through and allowing a potential customer a chance to take a peek at what they are buying makes it easier to make the sale.  And then there is transport.  Clamshells help protect sensitive products in the shipping process.

Okay.  But what about hapless consumers who risk injury and frustration trying to open their purchases when they get home?

Perhaps the trade publication Plastics Today answered that question when it made this suggestion to the makers of plastic clamshells: “While it might seem a bit unlikely to envision people hurting themselves with packaging, I have to say I’ve resorted to using scissors before when trying to open clamshell packaging. Luckily, I haven’t received an injury (yet) as a result of using a ‘weapon.’ But it might just make good business sense for packaging designers to come up with a package that still utilizes the clamshell design but is just easy to open. Now that would be a great display of innovative packaging.”

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1 year ago

How about coming up with something that is not plastic. Oceans are full of plastic. Also get rid of the plastic bags at the check out. Bring your own or use paper bags.

1 year ago

Yes! I just went through this last night! I use to work in consumer goods and these companies already know this they just do not want to spend the money for the change. The best way to get these changes implemented is for you to call the 800 number on the product, believe me it works!

1 year ago

AND, make no mistake …. it adds to the price of the item
All that additional plastic and the machinery used to wrap these items is costly.
We are a nation of idiots…obviously NOT capable of checking to see if our product has been tampered with or not.
Time to let up be adults, folks…

1 year ago
Reply to  Alex

We can check our products all you want but people find ways to tamper. I sold toothpaste and when it was in the old packaging (just pop it up) we’d get calls of toothpicks in there or other foreign material and we’re not talking that long ago. The amount of damaged packaging these companies used to receive was unbelievable. I’d go to a Target or Walmart and would half way fill my cart with damaged product! Imagine all the companies product that are in these stores…. your looking at a lot if money returning to them just in damages.
Bottom line is, the consumer created it and the manufacturer had to do something.
If there’s a will, there’s a way.

Dan W.
1 year ago

And then there is the recycling problem with plastic wrap and bubble wrap.

Most curbside recycling companies will not recycle any type of plastic wrapping or the thin plastic bags used by grocery stores and other retailers because it gums up their plastic sorting machines.

You can take this material back to your local grocery store for recycling in some cities that have big box retailers or national grocery store chains but most people don’t have the time to do this even if their local retailers provide this service.

In addition, most curbside recycling companies don’t recycle any plastic marked with the recycling symbol 6 – PS (Polystyrene).

Number 6 plastic includes styrofoam but is also used in other common packing materials as well as in many disposable food containers and utensils, egg cartons, and pre-packaged food holders. Unless you can find a vendor who recycles number 6 plastic, most of this type of plastic goes straight to the landfill.

1 year ago
Reply to  Dan W.

If the plastics recyclers can’t find someone to buy the plastic, it unfortunately ends up in the landfill or the incinerator. A waste facility technician I spoke with years ago said only about 10% of their material is actually recycled and made into new products. Very disappointing. That’s why we should refuse to buy plastic if we can. True; no one takes styrofoam.

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