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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)

"The backing and cover are preferably formed of a plastic . . . that is difficult to puncture, cut or tear," it reads. "The seal between the backing and cover is preferably difficult to compromise, so that human hands have great difficulty separating the backing and cover."

Then consider the patent granted a year later, to Thomas Perlmutter, for the brutally sharp OpenX tool, designed for clamshell-cracking. He's put about a million into those frustrated human hands, and demand rises sharply around the holidays, he said. Another opener called KwikCut is sold in the Home Improvements catalogue.

"I haven't been able to find one," complained clamshell hater Taylor, who argues stores should carry them right next to the offending products. "I've been looking all over."

This year, Consumer Reports magazine gave an award for the worst plastic clamshell packaging to a warehouse-store version of a Uniden cordless phone set: It took 9 minutes 22 seconds to unwrap completely and nearly caused injury to the person opening it. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, injuries from plastic packaging resulted in 6,400 visits to emergency rooms in 2004.

Uniden is trying to come up with easier-to-open packaging, but spokesman Rex Holloway said many retailers don't want change. "We're kind of caught between a rock and a hard place," he said.

On Amazon.com, one reviewer of the remote-controlled Roboreptile by Wow Wee singled out the toy's solitary confinement: "Getting him out of the box was a major pain. Apparently they're concerned about packs of them escaping and running amok devouring Barbies in the stores at night or something."

It's not just the difficulty that steams shoppers, it's the environmental impact of all that plastic. "It's just so wasteful," said Jessica McBride, 30, of Falls Church, who actively avoids buying anything that has too much plastic wrapping.

Consumers are way ahead of the industry with these concerns, said Aidan Petrie, chief innovation officer of Item Group, a Providence, R.I., product design firm. He pushed clients for years to use more inviting and minimal wrapping, to no avail. Now that big retailers like Wal-Mart are trying to curb waste, he predicts "a sea change" in how things are presented.

Schick's Intuition ladies razor is an example of what's to come. "It has all the presence that people like about the clamshell," said Petrie, "with none of the frustration. And in fact it has easy open tabs on it."

In August, Costco Wholesale Stores began putting some items, such as Lexmark inkjet cartridges, into something called Natralock, an easy-to-open cardboard and plastic hybrid. "You'll see it ramp up over time," predicted Natralock's Don Hodapp.

Consumers are also agitating for fewer of those time-consuming twisties, plastic cuffs and taped-down cardboard reinforcements that keep toys, in particular, imprisoned with no chance of escape. Silver, of Toy Wishes, said toy executives are evaluating those, too, asking consumer-friendly questions such as, " 'Why do we need 10 when four will do?' " he said.

But for this holiday season, Silver has some advice:

"We suggest you take it out of the box, untie the fasteners and then put it back in the box and wrap it," he said.


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