/ 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 think that manufacturers whose products cannot be opened ought to have their managing directors put on television and forced to demonstrate how to open their products. There are thousands of items which have to be NOT able to be opened or gained access to ‘without the use of a tool’. Some packaging requires tools more complex than that required to open a 13A mains plug. Why should a 13A plug be easier to open than a toothbrush?

Member
Fadrienne says:
24 August 2013

Squeeze and twist bottles (loo cleaner) are impossible for weak hands. I have an assortment of tools on my workbench to cope with opening. I can lever ring-pulls with a suitable stick and use a Y shaped opener with a stabiliser for most bottles. But when necessary I have hammered a screwdriver through the top of a bottle of pickles leaving lethal edges and thrown away sardines when the ring pull has failed and the tin opener couldn’t cope with the tight corners of the tin. I am increasingly preying on my guests, friends, visitors et al to de-cap purchases. I would prefer a ‘Clyde-Built’ product as opposed to an impenetrable package.

Member

A simple device that I use opens effortlessly vacuum-sealed jam
jars (and the like) by securing the lids tightly and simply twisting
and it’s done.

Nothing cd be simpler.

Member
Steve C says:
25 August 2013

Hi, my pet hate regarding packaging is the type of plastic used for rice. Tears in the plastic run like a ladder in nylon stockings. A slight nick will end up with half the contents on the floor.

Member
james Chelmsford says:
25 August 2013

Your survey says it all- and I thought I was alone!

Member
Alaster Yoxall says:
25 August 2013

Hiya to all,

That have commentated. Keep the stories coming. I’m keen to find out about problems but also items that you don’t buy because they’re problematic. It’ll help Which? and myself keep the pressure on.
Thanks.

Member
stephen says:
25 August 2013

As many have said tin cans with ring pulls are awful, either the ring pull breaks completely and a tin opener has to be used or the pull is so hard you damage your fingers and often finish up with a lid only half removed.

The other big inconvenience I find are cucumbers which supermarkets wrap so tightly in film that the only way to remove it is with a knife which presents its own dangers.

I once bought an electric razor online it was delivered with no problem but it took two of us with scissors and a knife over an hour to remove the packaging. Surely excessive

Member
jane scott says:
25 August 2013

I’ve noticed that medicines which are prescribed for, and used by the elderly are often difficult to open because one needs strong hands/fingers to undo the lids or caps. I have resorted to jamming the lid of a container in the hinge of a door in order to open it, and I have only mildly arthritic hands.
It seems that a lot of packaging is designed and tested by supermen. Surely it would be sensible for packaging companies to find out what the problems are for the consumers, women in particular who have real difficulties with lids on jars.
Let’s hope this campaign will have the desired effect.

Member

Cannon printer ink cartridges are impossible to open without a very sharp tool & who wants the “free” photo cards anyway?