/ Food & Drink, Health, Shopping

Wrap rage – the everyday packaging that hurts to open

Man opening jar

You’d complain loudly if you bought a new car and had to fight to get the door open, so why do we have to put up with difficult-to-open everyday packaging?

Three quarters of us think that everyday packaging is harder to open than it needs to be. One Which? member told us:

‘Recently I found my camera card was full and bought a spare. I found that I could not open it without scissors so bought a pair from WH Smith. I then found that I could not get the scissors out of their packaging because of a nylon cable tie. An electrician lent me a pair of cutters so that I could remove the scissors and then unpack the memory card.’

It’s a story we’ve heard before on Which? Conversation, from Harry:

‘On the way to an event, I remembered I had forgotten to take the scissors. No problem, I thought, as there was a supermarket on the way. But at the checkout, it became clear that the only way I was going to be able to use them was to find another pair of scissors to open the packaging.’

But the struggle to get into household goods – from food to toiletries to medicines – has a more serious side, and some worrying implications for our health and wellbeing.

Some packs pose painful problems

According to our survey, four in ten people say they have hurt themselves while trying to open packaging in the last two years. That’s a staggering 25 million people if we scale that up to the UK population.

The biggest packaging offender for injuries is the tin can. If we applied our figures to the general population, that would mean more than one million people are going to their GP or A&E at least once in a two-year period, simply as a the result of opening a tin.

And moulded plastic packs claim nearly as many victims, as well as being the biggest cause of irritation, annoying over half of people.

We’re resorting to weaponry to fight our way into packs as well, with 89% using scissors, 66% knives, 8% using Stanley knives, 6% screwdrivers, and a worrying minority resorting to razor blades (4%) and hammers (2%). Here’s just one example of someone using a knife to get into a package, shared by a GP:

‘A patient came in requesting a substitute prescription for her eye drops. She’d ruined the first bottle while using a knife to try and get into it.’

The ingenious jam jar lid

We know that manufacturers have to serve many masters: packaging has to be sustainable (reducing materials used), safe and secure, and keep our food fresh and intact in transit and on the shelves. Perhaps it’s no wonder that accessibility has taken a while to get to the top of their ‘to do’ list.

Some manufacturers have got it right – Duerr’s jam jar lid is ingenious. You twist an outer ring which loosens and pushes the fixed central panel away, breaking the seal. Whereas more traditional jars need strength to open them.

But I believe that packaging matters. It’s stopping a quarter of people from eating what they want, and a quarter of people regularly need help to open packaging. And more and more of us are living alone. For example, one older lady told me she has to wait for the postman to open jars and tins for her.

Manufacturers may soon have help to commit to easier packaging, regardless of the cost. An EU testing method was launched in 2011 to help manufacturers striving to improve packaging accessibility, using test panels of older people. This should become a British standard in 2014.

Do you agree that inaccessible packaging is an important issue, or do you think it’s just an occupational hazard?

Comments
Yvonne Kelly says:
20 October 2018

The joints at the base of my thumb have recently become very painful. I did some research on the subject and came to the conclusion that this could be a form of arthritis which has a certain inevitability at my age. Then I chanced upon this conversation and realised it was fighting with a child proof container a week ago that was the most likely cause. It then dawned on me that the pain usually followed tussling with jars of sauce or trying to get the loo cleaner open. Yes – my hands are getting weaker so I’m now going to buy some of those thingies that help us more mature individuals to open jars unaided. However, I will have to reconsider buying some products as the strength required to open the containers makes them useless to me. Come on manufacturers – it’s recognised that the population is living longer so this isn’t a problem that will go away. Get your design departments working on a solution.

DerekP says:
20 October 2018

Hi Yvonne, nice to hear from you and sorry to hear about your problems.

Even as a “normal person” (???) I sometimes find child-proof bottles awkward and factory sealed jam jar lids difficult.

For tight jam jar lids and similar, I have a kitchen “strap wrench” that suits me and allows me to use a lot more leverage. Some might find it a bit “fiddly” to use, but for me it is just a kitchen version of a car mechanic’s oil filter chain wrench. (I’ve got one of those too – but it is NOT allowed in the kitchen.)

Things like medicine and bleach bottles are harder because they need a turning action and downward pressure at the same time. I expect, by now, there ought to be some good aids for such bottles.

Although some popular aids are sold in ordinary and specialists local shops, there are also specialised on-line stores too, for example see:

livingmadeeasy.org.uk/kitchen%20and%20household/screw-lid-bottle-openers-2284-p/

I hope that most retailers will either let you “try before you buy” or failing that, have good no-quibble returns policies.

Thanks to doing some scrub-bashing a couple of weeks ago, I am suffering from pain at the base of my thumb and it is even painful to type. It is giving me experience of problems that I have never encountered before.

I suggest that Yvonne finds out if neighbours/family/friends have similar problems and tries whatever gadgets they have in their homes, to find out what works best for her. Manufacturers sometimes use different types of child-proof caps. Derek mentions bleach bottles that require the user to push and turn, but others have two marked areas at the side of the cap that must be pressed before the lid can be turned. I have not seen a tool that will help with this type.

Pharmacists will supply pills in bottles without child-proof caps on request.

For years, Duerrs have been selling jams and preserves in jars with a lid that is easy for anyone to open. It’s high time other manufacturers used this type of lid.

Patrick Taylor says:
20 October 2018

Excellent link to what looks like a really useful site that should be more widely known.

“Living made easy is Europe’s largest trusted online comparison site for daily living equipment (sometimes known as disability equipment or assistive technology). It is used predominately by disabled adults and children, older people, their families and carers who are looking for equipment to make everyday tasks easier.

It is designed and run by the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) – a national charity.
What equipment is available?
We have more suppliers listing their products on Living made easy than any other site in the UK or Europe.

The website covers equipment for all areas of daily living from household to leisure – including the bedroom and bathroom, along with chairs and chair accessories, telecare, household and kitchen gadgets and equipment for children with disabilities and more.

Any product that can be supplied across the UK can be included on Living made easy’s website.”

OF DLF the charity there is a Wikipedia article:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disabled_Living_Foundation

Patrick Taylor says:
20 October 2018

I have extracted these two comments to the Member Community . If the Member Community gets a search facility it may be useful

The aging process means we may all find our strength, flexibilty, eyesight, hearing,etc deteriorate. it should not mean that we all have to buy lots of gadgets to enable us rto do everyday things. Which seem unwilling take this on as an issue but could campaign for more user friendfly packaging, kitchen equipment etc. However, whenever i have tried to raise this with Which staff they have dicrected me to disabled equipment, (as Patrick is doing) and seem unable to understand that aging which happens to us all is not a disabilty. The UK has an aging population so the problems affect lots of people, why is it more important to have something child proof rather than age friendly. Come on Which why aren’t you interested, is is it just another reflection of Which being run by and for under 40s

Helen Zammett says:
15 December 2018

I am writing to support the new non-plastic wrapping on the SAGA magazine.

I see that the National Trust has moved to compostable plastic for its magazine: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/our-new-fully-biodegradable-magazine-wrapper

It’s going to take them until 2022 to phase out single-use plastic bottles. 🙁

They could do that at a stroke by just stopping selling water and other drinks in plastic bottles. In fact, it would do the planet a favour if all bottled water was withdrawn from sale and many other drinks as well.