/ 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
Member

I mentioned the brilliant design of the lid on Duerr’s preserves in the Conversation on inaccessible packaging. It would be good if the company allowed others to copy this design, but I guess it is patented.

Companies that design products that make our life easier should win design awards, but these seem to be given for aesthetic considerations rather than for practicality.

Member

A few years ago my mum even wrote to Duerr to thank them for their very user friendly lids

Member
Alaster Yoxall says:
20 August 2013

The big problem is the cost sadly. Unfourtunately the Duerrs lid cost 50% more than a standard lid and many brand owners can’t afford to take the hit as retailers won’t let them increase it. Duerr’s were quite brave going for it. That said i don’t understand why they haven’t made more of it to be honest. When I spoke to them they said it had reinforced their brand but had made people switch brands.

Member

Thanks for this insight, Alaster. I wonder how much extra the lid costs.

Though I have little problem with conventional lids, I a now buy Duerr products more frequently, because I like the design of the lid. I also buy cartons of UHT milk that have screw caps rather than a peel off strip, simply because it is so easy to spill milk with the latter design.

Member
Alaster Yoxall says:
20 August 2013

Hiya,

Pence. But when you make millions and millions it all adds up. People often say they will pay more for stuff but people are very brand loyal. Even though I was involved with it I have to say it’s a great product 🙂

Member

I used to buy various brands of ginger preserve, depending on price. Now I buy Duerrs unless there is an offer on other brands, simply because of the lid. Thank your for your efforts and causing me to spend pence more. 🙂 At the other end of the scale, I will pay a lot more for Apple computers because I like the operating system and my experience of very good reliability.

Nutcrackers that crack the shell without damaging the nut or can be used by those with weak hands are other examples of great design.

With people living longer, we need to start thinking about good design of everyday products.

Member

My poor “old” father is now forced to use a pair of pliers to get into some of the bottles of medicine he has, as he can’t grip the very small plastic tag which you need to pull to free the lid up and this is after several years of getting bottles he could open.

When they queried this with the manufacturer, they were told it was to make the bottle child proof. Yet it now seems old age pensioner proof too. 🙁

Member

I agree, William. My mother had severe arthritis and struggled with packaging. Many children can defeat ‘child proof’ caps that make life difficult for elderly people.

Perhaps we should all take your mum’s approach and send compliments to those manufacturers that try to help us. It might not take long. 🙂