Styrofoam peanuts
Styrofoam peanuts: not your best friend.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the scourges of modern life in the Western world is reality TV programming.

No, wait, that’s unfair. Reality TV programming is really only a minor plague. What truly is a scourge is: product packaging.

I’m fairly lucky — I’m pretty good at beating my way into packages, and if I have to buy a product frequently, I can eventually work out a trick or two for getting into the package quickly. However, there are still several types that defeat me. For example:

Potato chip bags — With most bags, you just need to grab one side in each hand and pull the top seam apart. However sometimes the bag has been pumped so full of air that there’s not enough slack to grab. Worse, the seam may have been heavily glued, which means you really have to pull hard. The result? A chip shower when the bag finally rips open.

Pull tabs — Pull tabs are little strips of material embedded in packaging, which are, in theory, supposed to help you rip through the package more quickly. In reality, there are two types of pull tabs: those that break in half as you’re pulling them, and those that slide right out of the package before they’ve cut through anything.

Yoghurt lids — Individual servings of things like yoghurt or pudding are often capped with a thin sheet of plastic. You might be lucky enough to find a tab to pull the plastic away. You will never be able to get it to come off in one piece. Indeed, many a lunch break across the globe has been wasted trying to remove enough shreds from one of these containers to wedge a spoon in.

Toys — Most of our toys are manufactured in China these days and so perhaps manufacturers have become a bit paranoid about things coming loose on the boat trip over. But does Barbie really need to be strapped in with no less than 32 machine-tightened ties?

Twist off bottle caps — Hands up all of you who have fallen for the line on the bottle that says “easy twist off cap!” Oooh, that’s some nasty scarring you’ve got there.

Magazine mailers — If you take any magazine subscriptions, you may have noticed that your favourite periodical now comes in a sealed plastic bag. This presumably is so that it arrives in pristine condition, allowing you the pleasure of making it into a dog-eared wreck yourself when you attempt to undo the bag.

Styrofoam packing — Styrofoam has to be one of the most annoying packing materials ever made and it comes in two forms. The Styrofoam “peanut” comes complete with static electricity, so that individual pieces leap out of the box and on to your clothes, your hair, your furniture and your carpet. Moulded Styrofoam is great at providing an exact fit for the appliance packed in a box — so exact, there is no room to slide fingers in anywhere to lift the Styrofoam away.

Meat trays — Speaking of Styrofoam, meat at the grocery store often comes in a foam tray covered with plastic wrap. These packages start leaking approximately 2.3 seconds after being put together.

CD wrappers — Compact discs come in jewel cases, which are in turn encased in plastic. This plastic is quite possibly the strongest substance known to man; the plastic is shrink wrapped on, so there’s nothing to grab. CD packaging, not the price of music, is probably the single biggest reason why people prefer to download their music from the Internet.

More than just a minor inconvenience, bad packaging caused something like 60,000 injuries in the UK in one year — presumably when people finally gave up and went for the knife, scissors or razor blade.

Worse, most of these package types aren’t recyclable. Take those yoghurt lids for example. Even assuming that only 10,000 kids in my municipality have two yoghurts per week in their lunches, that’s 1,040,000 bits of plastic to the landfill every year.

And with that much packaging in the landfills, it’s going to take years of beating our way in to clean them up.

One Comment

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