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Packaging: Getting Steadily Stupider Since 1982

I spit upon the grave of the Tylenol Murderer. Remember in 1982, the chilling string of random murders by tampering with Tylenol capsules? It seems so tame now in light of the mass shootings we now see. “Only” seven people died, and we as a society agreed immediately on quick and decisive action to prevent more deaths (probably because no one was buying over-the-counter medicine.)

It happened fast, suddenly everything had bottle seals. Blister packs became more common. We accepted this easily; we’d been prepared with child-resistant caps. It was already hard to get into a Tylenol bottle, what was one more barrier?

(Helpful tip, you can ask your pharmacy to prepare your prescriptions without deploying the child-safe cap. The other side of the cap just screws on, like in the picture above.)

Over the years, more and more items became super-sealed. My hair care products have foil seals under the caps. I order them online; they are placed in sealed boxes and delivered to my locking mailbox. The only way those could be tampered with would be by a factory employee. And really, what are they going to do, add Nair?

The floodgates were wide open and we got theft-resistant packaging too. Deli containers acquired snaps along the edges of the lids. Have you tried to extract a cake from a bakery container recently? Like toothpaste and laundry detergent, packaging has gotten stupid.

This rant was inspired by the Ancestry DNA kit I ordered and used tonight. I spit in a tube, then had to screw a cap on it super hard, in order to release a preservative inside the cap, then shake to mix the saliva and the preservative. I had a devil of a time getting that blue fluid to release. I went out to grab my arsenal of package tools, afraid I was going to break the tube, but I finally managed to screw it tightly enough on my own.

Last month I ordered a high-capacity rapid phone charger. It’s sweet; it holds three full charges and is about the same size as my phone, and only slightly heavier. I look forward to using it on my bike tours, where access to outlets can be a problem in hostels, which are usually older buildings that haven’t upgraded to current electrical standards. My charger came packed in a nice box, the well-made kind an expensive phone comes in.

Inside the box, there was a piece of micro-corrugated cardboard about 10 layers thick. The charger lay embedded in this cardboard piece. Only the very uppermost edge of the charger stuck out; there was really nothing to grab and the cardboard was as rigid as plywood, I couldn’t bend it to tip the charger out. I worked at it for about 15 minutes, reluctant to pry with anything that might damage the lustrous matte gunmetal finish. Finally I went at the packaging itself. I couldn’t cut it any away; there was too much glue in the cardboard. I tried peeling the uppermost paper layer away from the top, then peeling each thin layer one by one until there was a big enough section of the charger exposed to lift out. In my online review of the charger, I included a note that the packaging looked attractive, but was a significant barrier to the product.

Now we have things in plastic clamshell packs that are sealed completely around the edges. Take, for example, a package of AAA batteries. The batteries are encased in a plastic bubble that extends to form a card to hang it on the rack at the store—the card that used to be made of tagboard. You bring it home and in order to access the batteries inside, you have to completely destroy the package. It’s heat-sealed all the way around.

These packages may deter theft; however, any determined shoplifter will make off with the whole package and worry about extracting the item at home. The worst part about these packages is that it’s hard to return the item if it doesn’t work out. I bought an electric razor packaged this way at a Rite-Aid store last year and it was about what you’d expect for the price. It broke on the second use and I was relieved that the store took it back without any of the original packaging. It’s not like they could resell it, after all, but in many cases, I bet the retailers have to send items back for repackaging.

I have hurt myself trying to get at stuff I’ve purchased. I bought a 5-way tool with safety blades embedded in various positions to minimize injury. Every time I labor to break into a difficult package, I marvel that AARP hasn’t made this a priority action item. I know how hard it is for me to get into packages with my damaged hand. It must be at least as bad for the millions of seniors (and young people) with arthritis. This disability access issue totally crosses over to seniors. How is AARP not storming the packaging plants with torches and pick-axes?

Knowing that I am only one person, I waste an unholy amount of time commenting on the web sites of packaging offenders. I keep a bunch of tools on hand for getting into difficult packages. I can’t be alone in this. How do you all cope?

Packaging: Getting Steadily Stupider Since 1982

Kristin Noreen

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Packaging: Getting Steadily Stupider Since 1982. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jan 2018
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