Do Not Pry Open Until Christmas

"It takes at least 40 minutes to get all the packaging off all the toys" for her two children on Christmas morning, says Tiffany Seay of Fort Washington. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Margaret Webb Pressler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006

There's a part of Christmas morning that Tiffany Seay dreads: getting everything out of its packaging. The twisties. The tape. The hard plastic ties, like handcuffs for dolls. The itty-bitty screwdrivers.

"It takes at least 40 minutes to get all the packaging off all the toys," fumes the Fort Washington mother of two and government analyst. "I have a 2-year-old and he's like, Mommeeeee!"

In an effort to keep toys intact and music players from being pilfered, the consumer products industry has moved en masse into a style of wrapping that's more prison than package. The hard plastic clamshell container, with its fused seams, is so impenetrable it has even spawned its own safecracking tools: razor-sharp gadgets designed to slash through all that stuff.

Manufacturers say molded packaging protects goods on the long journey from Asia. Retailers say the heat-sealed edges keep shoppers from opening them in stores. And products certainly look picture-perfect in that clear plastic bubble.

"But once you've gotten it home," said JoAnn Hines, a Georgia-based packaging consultant to manufacturers, "then it's open at your peril."

The vitriol these packages inspire is so rampant the industry has a name for it: wrap rage. Georgia Taylor of Woodbridge has it.

"I hate it. I hate it," the IRS manager says of the ubiquitous plastic clamshell, resistant to scissors, razor blades and loud swearing. "Sometimes you stop and feel that plastic and if it's the really hard kind, you think, 'Do I really want to bother with this?' "

Manufacturers can no longer ignore the soaring consumer complaints. The result, packaging experts say, is that this will be one of the last holiday seasons that require a box cutter.

"They realize it's a problem," said Jim Silver, editor of Toy Wishes magazine. "Over the next two years, they want to transform what the packaging is because they want to make it easier to open."

But just as people hit the outlet mall at midnight on Black Friday, then complain the holiday season is too materialistic, the always conflicted U.S. consumer feels two ways about packaging, said the design critic and author Thomas Hine.

"You want the virgin product -- the product that's untouched by human hands," Hine said. "Yet when you get it home, the very thing that kept the product pristine is what's keeping you from actually experiencing it. We want it both ways."

Consider a patent application, granted in 2003 to California-based One Source Industries, for a new and improved kind of clamshell:

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