/ Parenting, Shopping

Toys to toothbrushes – the most difficult-to-open presents

Child holding up car toy

Our investigation into hard-to-open packaging struck a chord with me. I’ve got various family birthdays coming up and I never fail to get annoyed with the ridiculous packaging on many kids’ toys.

You may have seen BBC Watchdog discussing our inaccessible packaging research on BBC1 last Wednesday.

As we talked about the issue on Twitter, the debate soon turned to toys, with Fred Yates telling us he’s had to track down a gadget just to open them:

Frustrating toy packaging

I usually end up using a pair of scissors, a screwdriver, a knife and pure rage to get a basic toy out of its wrapping.

I’ve no idea why something that’s built to survive a young child playing with it has to come wrapped in plastic and cardboard, with additional plastic ties fastened around various bits. You can even find the odd screw holding the packaging in place, as Fraser shared with us:

It’s hard enough for an adult to take all of this off, let alone a child. At least if it’s a present for an adult you can let them wield the scissors. But if it’s you having to be the responsible grown-up, you have to remove the wrapping without swearing or cutting yourself while a pair of large, slightly sad eyes look up at you expectantly, wondering why you’re taking so long.

Share your hard-to-open toys

I also deeply resent shrink-wrapped DVDs and CDs, which I find hard to remove without marking the casing, and anything that comes in a plastic clamshell. If you remember, moulded plastic packs were the biggest cause of irritation in our survey, annoying more than half of people.

So it got me thinking about a future news story for Which? magazine, where we’d like to feature the most hard-to-open presents. So think back to your birthday or last Christmas, and let us know more about the gifts that you either bought or received that had the most awkward packaging. Whether it’s toys for your kids or otherwise, share your package opening woes below. Oh, and if you have any pictures, feel free to email them to us.


I remember the extreme difficulty I had as a child getting money out of one of my grandfathers. I knew there was some in there if only I could prise it out of him. Sometimes you could see it [while it was being counted], or hear it clinking, but it was impossible to get your hands on it as he was the supreme master of prestidigitation and it was gone in a blink. Simple implements like scissors and screwdrivers wouldn’t do anything as he was tighter than a clamshell. Doing handstands or magic tricks brought no reward [the biscuit barrel might be proffered but there was only ever one chocolate digestive in it]. Children today have it easy in my opinion!

Hi John Ward, this comment tickled us so much that we’ve made it our Comment of the Week 🙂

The curious thing is that most children can open the tamper-proof packaging that defeats many adults. I think the packaging for toys should contain an element of surprise and either blow up with a bright flash and a loud report when touched by the recipient or metamorphose into some other article like a weird piece of headgear or dynamic pants with supernatural properties.

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 October 2013

Laugh out loud, John Ward!

What gets me with all this plastic packaging is that I can’t recycle it in Edinburgh! I’m not even sure all plastics/similar substances used in packaging are recyclable. We need a scientist to join this convo and tell us if eg the shrink-wrap can be recycled or not. If yes, we need to start a campaign to get all local authorities to collect the darn things from us, and if not, we need to start a campaign to ban all packaging that can’t be recycled.

A bit off topic, I know, sorry. But I felt I had to say it.

I suspect that the packaging that presents a challenge is in the ‘not currently recyclable’ category, Sophie. Most plastics are identified by a number and it would be a great help if councils would provide a sticker showing which number plastics should be put in recycling bins. It would be great if councils could standardise on what goes in recycling bins, but they cannot even agree on what colours of bins should be used for particular purposes.

It’s a good idea to get children develop a habit of recycling and training their parents to do the same.

This morning I unpackaged a China made product of a wind-up lantern. I had to cut with a very strong pair of scissors half way around the packet in order to open it enough to slide the contents out.

It has no recycling instructions on it. I can’t tell whether the packet is made out of PET1 or PS. There is no recycling number on it. Our Council says that it doesn’t recycle polystyrene (PS) but I don’t know if they mean this sort of polystyrene or expanded polystyrene packaging.

Pills can be very hard to get out of the push through strips (especially if they suddenly change to peel off strips). The plastic seal around the top of eye drops bottles is also very difficult to take off for those who use them too.

A few weeks ago we bought a vacuum sealed pack of Beetroot.
It took me ages with a pair of scissors before I could penetrate the plastic and get the d**ned Beetroot out!!

Some packaging has changed and is so much easier to use. I just love the packs where you can now peel the film off the top of a rigid plastic box. In the past it would have had to have been attacked with a pair of scissors or knife. Apparently there used to be quite a few casualties arriving in A&E as a result.

So look out for changes in packaging – ie look out for instructions on how to open – that is of course if you can see! Unfortunately if you can’t changes in packaging are harder to come to terms with.

It isn’t just food packaging that has improved because some electronic goods come in very neat cardboard boxes that can be unfolded to flatten.

Let’s praise the good changes and point out difficult packaging to the retailers!

Are there any good examples of children being injured as a result of packaging that is difficult to open? If so, this information could be fed back to manufacturers to give them the chance to take appropriate action. If nothing happens then perhaps Which? could publicise some of the worst examples.

I don’t think any manufacturer would be happy to be known as being the cause of children’s accidents, but the first step is to give them have the opportunity to make improvements.

We should certainly be praising the manufacturers that are better than average.

Sorry this is not about Christmas presents but I have just had an argument with another tricky packet and think something should be done!!!

As well as packaging that is just impossible to open without tools or brute force there is an awful lot of packaging that is just very difficult to open for people whose grip or arm or hand strength is too weak, and this includes screw-tops, glued edges, perforations, peel-open films and various other types of closure. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to see where to start the opening [e.g floorwipes] because appearance has dominated over practicality. I know there are grips and other aids and appliances that can help but it should not be necessary to have to find the gadget before opening a jar or packet. Even simple things like yogurt pots are getting increasingly difficult, so next time there is a report of a stabbing in Norfolk I could be the culprit.

The routine instruction on cereal packets is to insert a finger under the [nearly invisible] flap and slide it from side to side to release the seal. Having cut myself so often on the extremely sharp edges of the cardboard I now always use the handle of the cereal spoon instead of my finger – this should be the advice on the packet. But that is only the first stage of accessing the contents; it is then necessary to prise apart the tightly-sealed inner wrapping without showering the product all over the place. This is particularly hard for people with arm or hand weakness to do. It’s about time manufacturers started thinking about the whole population, not just the strong ones with 100% coordination [probably a minority!].

As I suggested in another Conversation, perhaps we should enlist the help of those who do a grand job campaigning for the disabled, who may struggle more than most of us. Imagine struggling with packaging if you are crippled with arthritis and partially sighted.

There is something very wrong if we are resorting to tackling packaging with what would be regarded as an offensive weapon in a public place. If John is arrested following a stabbing incident in Norfolk, he can rely on Which? Conversation as evidence of previous good character and make a case that he was provoked by unthinking manufacturers. 🙂

I have long ago kept a sharp pair of scissors
( or pliers! ) handy for opening anything
deemed awkward or difficult.

William Denis Guest says:
13 October 2013

No Childs Toy’s packaging should be more dangerous than the toy itself. If Clamshell packaging was a consumer product it would have been banned years ago.

I have submitted the designs, photos and video of a re-engineered clamshell to the IdeasProject. The IDEASproject (Instantly Deployable Evolvable Assembly System) is funded by the five major European exporters under the EU 7th framework program. Submissions to the IDEASproject are open source and free to use without further contact. However it is nice to know if an idea is useful.

My reference is my Google rankings on the fallowing searches. “Re-engineered Clamshell”; “Clamshell Injuries”, “Clamshell without Wrap rage” and “End Wrap Rage”

I call it the “SafePak”, “Safety for the Consumer and Product”.