The struggle against those annoying plastic packages gains a few allies

Some companies are switching to easy-to-open packaging. Not a moment too soon, in my opinion.

Comments (33)
  1. benjamin says:

    I’ll never understand why this is/was an issue for people.

    Here’s what you do:

    Step #1: If you don’t already own a pair (and seriously, why don’t you?), go to your nearest hardware store and buy either a sturdy, well constructed pair of scissors or a utility knife/”box cutter” with a retractable blade.

    Step #2: Use the implement from #1 and use them to open the package.

    [Good luck getting that surdy, well-constructed pair of scissors to get a good angle on the package. It’s not like there’s a flat edge you can attack. And of course, once you find your attack point (usually requiring you to exert force on the scissors while the blades are open at a 90 degree angle), you have to dodge the shards that the cutting generates. Or maybe you also keep a pair of heavy gloves around, too. -Raymond]
  2. ton says:

    This is truly great news. I hate these fort knox like packages with passion. I had always wondered if the people who designed this crap had actually tried to open their own packaging themselves…apparently not.

  3. njkayaker says:

    "sturdy, well constructed pair of scissors"

    Sounds familiar, "in my opinion".

  4. Will says:

    @Bejamin:  What do you do when the  sturyd, well constructed pair of scissors and/or the utility knife you just purchased comes in an annoying hard to open plastic package too?

  5. John says:

    Pfft.  If you’re not willing to cut up your fingers, hands, and wrists on razor-sharp plastic shards to get at your newly purchased product, you obviously don’t want it badly enough.

    @Will:  Easy.  Just find the remains of a plastic package that has already been opened by someone else.  Use that as a blade to cut open your package.  Also, discarded plastic packaging makes a good shank.

  6. Leo Davidson says:

    benjamin: Even with a pair of scissors some of the plastic containers are still very difficult to open, often involving me cutting my fingers on the plastic and scratching the object I’m trying to free with the scissors.

    Perhaps my scissors aren’t up to your high standards but, even if that’s true, they’re perfectly good enough for every other task in the house and I don’t see why we should have to buy special tools for the sole purpose of opening gratuitously bad packaging.

  7. dave says:

    I have a much simpler solution:  I’ve started asking the sales staff at the store I buy overpackaged products from to open it for me.

    For bonus points, if they can’t/won’t, invoke their return policy on the spot.  "I can’t get the package open, so I can’t use the product."

  8. Ens says:

    I’ve taken to just stabbing these packages using very sharp kitchen knives.  I almost invariably destroy the instructions and any other papers inside.  But the actual product usually takes a very small portion of the package, so it’s easy to make sure I don’t destroy the object.

  9. Reverting to easy-to-open packaging will probably cause the shoplifting problem to raise its ugly head again.  (Less of an issue for mail-order places like Amazon.)

    The obvious solution is to give away products for free.

  10. Trevel says:

    What, I’m the only person with a household industrial laser? Melts through those passages in a jiffy and only RARELY sets anything on fire.

  11. Wes says:

    A tip I read somewhere suggested using an old-fashioned manual can opener, and I have to admit, I’ve tried it and it worked pretty well. It’s also a lot safer for you and the actual product than stabbing with utility knives.

  12. I asked the salespeople to do it, or the door person if I’m at Best Buy.

    I once sliced a favorite pair of jeans trying to open up some memory with a utility knife.

    I’ll be glad to see them go. I think they are disrespectful to the products themselves.

  13. MS says:

    I must admit I’ve started using my 7" Ka-Bar to open these things.  It might seem like overkill to use a hunting/combat knife, but it tends to work with a bit of patience and working at it.  It is great that they’re getting away from the indestructible plastic stuff, though.

  14. Duran says:

    Yeah, these packages are ridiculous.  Great to hear.

  15. GregM says:

    "I had always wondered if the people who designed this crap had actually tried to open their own packaging themselves…"

    Yes, they had.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t know that they had met their goal of making them hard to open.  It’s much cheaper to make cheap packaging that’s easy to open (something that snaps together or is stapled) rather than the hard to open (heat sealed or rf-sealed).  The specialty sealing machines for this stuff aren’t cheap, and it increases the packaging costs.  I know this because my father used to design and manufacture packaging for his customers (the manufacturers of those products).  The entire reason for making them was that the stores that purchase the goods from the manufacturers asked for large packaging that was hard to open, in order to deter shoplifters.

    We kidded him on a regular basis about how much we hated the people that made those packages.  I have one of those tools designed for opening these packages, and I bought one for him several years ago.  He thought it was great.

    Amazon and other online retailers don’t have that problem, since their packaging doesn’t hang on displays for the general public to access freely.  That means they’re free to use easy-to-open packaging.  B&M retailers have to weigh the cost of customer dislike of packaging vs. the cost to the store of lost merchandise.

  16. eff five says:

    So the clamshell and twist tie packages optimize product attractiveness but causes a poor unwrapping experience when high theft deterrence is required.*

    As a result vendors are following two strategies

    1) Optimize unwrapping experience when product attractiveness isn’t required and theft deterrence is off-loaded to another vender (USPS, FexEx, etc)

    2) Come up with a design that balances the three requirements attractiveness, a good unwrapping experience, and theft deterrence

    What do readers of the Old New Thing think?

    a) Its about time

    b) What’s the big deal? I have a clever hack that works around the poor unwrapping experience.

    Why am I not surprised :P

  17. Josh says:

    I’m really suprised there haven’t been any(newsworthy) lawsuits on this – on the scale of "Hot Coffee". I was looking forward to the "I tried to open your product, and ended up slitting my wrists and gouging my eyes out on your packaging, so now I’m suing you for billions" lawsuit.

    I would have been rooting for that person to win :) I guess soon (hopefully!) we’ll never know…

  18. Marcus says:

    I find these comments mystifying.  I have a razor sharp blade on my multitool.  It rarely takes more than a few moments to cut around the inner rim of the backside to open the package.  (The corners are the trickiest part.)

    You wouldn’t keep a <low quality brand of computer hardware deleted> around your home, would you?  Keeping a few high quality, well maintained knives is an integral part of maintaining a properly equipped household.

  19. benjamin says:

    Keeping a few high quality, well maintained knives is >an integral part of maintaining a properly equipped >household.

    Marcus, you’re my hero of the day.

  20. manicmarc says:

    The reason they are hard to open is because in a retail store the packet will have a security tag attached. If a thief could easily remove a small USB pen from the packet without causing much distraction then more would get stolen.

  21. Don says:

    This thing is the bomb:

    (In case the URL gets eaten, it’s the Zibra "Open It" package opener – just search for "open it" on Amazon.)

    The offset blades are the best part, so your knuckles are clear of the edge of the plastic as you work your way down the side of the clamshell. Sadly, it comes in a clamshell-esque package that is annoying to open, and to add insult to injury, it says something like “this is the last time you’ll need to wrestle with a package!”

    But it does work great.

  22. SMD says:

    And Benjamin, you’re my "hero of the day" for showing us all up with your high-quality tools and triumphant cutting skills. You’ll think I’m making this up, but we all wish we were as good as you are.

  23. chrismcb says:

    For all the people saying go buy a pair of scissors, knife or other cutting instrument…

    I once had a lay over in an airport. I picked up a new memory card for my camera. Of course it was packed in solid plastic.

    So now what am I supposed to do? I’m in the airport, on my way to my destination. Perhaps when I arrive I can purchase a cutting implement, just so I can throw it away. Or maybe I can ask the friendly local hoodlum if I can borrow is cutter?

    I managed to crack open the plastic, without too much injury to myself. But I wasn’t very happy.

  24. Jolyon Smith says:

    "I don’t see why we should have to buy special tools for the sole purpose of opening gratuitously bad packaging."

    It’s NOT gratuitously bad.  It’s highly effective at what it is DESIGNED to do.

    Such packaging is (typically) designed to deter or resist thieves, i.e. it is SPECIFICALLY designed to make it HARDER to open the package.

    Unfortunately the same packaging then has to be negotiated by the legitimate consumer after having made their purchase.

    You might think of it as the physical equivalent of DRM.

    I personally don’t see what the big deal is – sure it’s a bit frustrating but in the course of my life there are things that are far MORE frustrating and have a much bigger impact on society as a whole than having to spend a few minutes opening the package for whatever latest utterly non-essential-to-my-existence-or-well-being purchase rather than gaining instant access.

  25. benjamin says:

    >Good luck getting that surdy, well-constructed pair

    >of scissors to get a good angle on the package.

    Hence why it’s important to get a pair that’s well constructed. If you get a sharp enough pair of scissors that are decently built (the pair I use is Kobalt-brand) you can pretty much cut anywhere.

    Generally what I’ll do is make a slight cut into the plastic on a given side, then turn the scissors 90 degrees and cut across the face of the packaging, making a slit. Then I’ll either pry the plastic back or cut sits on the top and bottom to make a plastic ‘door,’ if you will.

    [In my experience, when I try this, the plastic shards cut my hand.]

    Really though, the utility knife’s even better than the scissors. Slide the knife out slightly, find a good spot to puncture and just thrust the blade in. You can pretend your name’s Dexter Morgan while you do it.

    [I’m afraid I’m going to slice myself when I do this. The knife slips and boom, I just slashed my hand. Maybe I’m just not macho enough. -Raymond]

    >Or maybe you also keep a pair of heavy gloves

    >around, too.

    I actually do. I have a heavy pair of welder’s gloves that belonged to my grandfather. They’re fantastic.

    >Sounds familiar, “in my opinion”.

    I don’t follow.

    >I don’t see why we should have to buy special tools

    >for the sole purpose of opening gratuitously bad


    It’s true, you shouldn’t. I bought some good scissors to cut open plastic packaging and have since realized they’re just good scissors in general. Like I said above, however, I’ve actually switched to using my utility knife for opening packages now, packages and envelopes.

    >What do you do when the  sturyd, well constructed

    >pair of scissors and/or the utility knife you just

    >purchased comes in an annoying hard to open plastic

    >package too?

    You’ll think I’m making this up, but I actually faced this problem two weeks ago when I had to make an emergency stop at a local Lowe’s. Normally I keep a set of tools (basic things like a few screwdrivers, an LED light, utility knife, tape, etc.) in my car, but because I was in a rental I found myself needing to cut some Velcro strips and with no tools in sight. I head into Lowe’s and bought a pocket knife only to realize it, as you pointed out, was encased in a plastic package.

    However, the knife was *open.*

    I proceeded to close the rental’s trunk lid on the packaging, then grabbed the top and used the knife to cut itself out of the packaging.

    I felt pretty triumphant.

  26. Nawak says:

    In some shops, items that are likelier to get stolen are enclosed in a reusable, transparent hard-plastic container that the cashier removes at the check-out. The lock uses the same strange mecanism they use for the big round tags on clothes.

    It’s extra work for the shop but all in all it seems like a good compromise.

  27. GUYO says:

    One thing that I’ve found that works well is a seam ripper — anyone who sews knows what they are —  they look a lot like a small can opener but come with a handy dandy plastic cover that can be placed over the too short handle to make it a bit longer ==    I actually popped down to my workshop and made an extension for the seam rippers that I sell at craft shows…

  28. Jolyon Smith says:

    1) it adds to the cost of the transaction (reduces throughput at the checkout) and that extra cost will be recovered by the retailer by increasing their margin.  So you, the legitimate consumer are now paying more for the DETERRENCE of theft AND added inconvenience at the checkout (again, the "physical DRM" analogy springs to mind)

    2) the mechanisms for removing those tags are notoriously unreliable.  How often have you stood in a checkout line watching in frustration as the checkout operator repeatedly attempted in vain to engage the tag removal mechanism?

    I don’t know about anyone else but I more often purchase in haste than I do attempt to open a package in haste.

    i.e. I pop into a store when I have a spare minute to grab something that I don’t actually want or need to open and use right now, but want to have for later.  I want – and sometimes NEED – fast, efficient service at the checkout.

    In – purchase – out.  With a minimum of fuss and bother.

    On the other hand, I have never NEEDed to get into a difficult to open package RIGHT GODDAMN NOW GODDAMIT.

  29. Leon K says:

    Hello Raymond,

    My absolute worst experience with this type of packaging was with the controller of my old Xbox*.

    I must have cut myself 3 times when trying to wrest open that stupid package.

    Seems I was not the only one suffering from that particular controller packaging though.



    *Should you post this, the fact that is a Microsoft branded product will no doubt prompt a few ‘blame Raymond’ for something that isn’t perfect somewhere within Microsoft comments. My apologies beforehand.

  30. mbghtri says:

    I have a friend who works in a hospital emergency room.  Since he doesn’t have a wife or kids, he usually volunteers to work the Christmas day shift.

    He told me that during the Christmas holiday, they see a surge of patients with hand injuries from opening these plastic clamshells. Some of the injuries are quite severe and debilitating.

    He couldn’t relay any real details (darned privacy laws), but he told me that one patient sliced completely across his palm, severing most of the arteries and tendons.  The person spent a year in physical therapy, but never regained full use of the hand.  Another patient stabbed his leg when the knife slipped, and yet another one nearly severed a finger.

    Consumers are way ahead of the industry on this one; it is time for a change.

  31. tekumse says:

    I just use my kitchen shears and thought everybody else did the same.  It’s annoying but hardly dangerous process.

  32. I’ll second the recommendation for the Zibra OpenIt listed above.  We’ve got one and it’s invaluable for opening blister packs.

  33. Joseph Koss says:

    My biggest pet-peeve is the security tape used on all CD and DVD cases. If you don’t have a knife handy, its going to take a long while to get one open.

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