How to Open That Nasty Plastic Packaging (Without Hurting Yourself)

Frustrated with that #&!%* hard plastic packing? Here's an easy way to open even the toughest packaging without ending up in the emergency room.

Have you suffered from “wrap rage,” the term coined to describe consumers’ frustration while opening the hard plastic packaging that encases so many things?

I was in such a state when trying to free some curtain rods from their packaging — and nearly cut my thumb off with the knife I was using. One trip to the emergency room and several stitches later, I returned to the task at hand — hanging some curtains. Like many before me, I wondered if theft-proof goods had to be so customer-proof.

According to one oft-cited Consumer Product Safety Commission statistic, “oyster” or “clamshell” package injuries resulted in some 6,400 emergency room visits in 2004. At that point, the problem was so prevalent that Consumer Reports named an annual “Oyster Award” to the company with the hardest-to-open package.

Since then, some major industry players have begun shifting to alternative packaging. But clamshell packaging is still around and still a menace!

So, don’t become one of the statistics. Follow these tips for opening those seemingly impermeable packages without cutting hands or lopping off fingertips:

Use a can opener

Check for pull tabs or perforated lines to help you open the package. Sometimes these features are part of the design. Usually not, though.

In the absence of these features, grab a rotary can opener and a small kitchen knife. Then:

  1. Place the package on its side with the edge facing up.
  2. Insert the bottom edge of the package inside the can opener like you’d normally do to open a can.
  3. Turn the can opener until you reach the other end of the package.
  4. Insert the kitchen knife inside the now open part of the clamshell with the blade facing away from you. Slowly run the knife along the remaining three edges.

You have an open package in just a few minutes with the contents and the instructions intact.

Safety

Consumer Reports has some additional tips on how to avoid injuring yourself:

  • If you must use a knife or another type of sharp object, cut away from your body.
  • If you must use scissors, use a pair with blunt tips.
  • Wear protective gloves.
  • Avoid opening tough-to-open packages in a crowded area.
  • Don’t hold the product between your legs to keep it stable.

Get a tool made for the job

If the idea of opening packaging yourself still seems daunting or risky, a few products on the market are designed to make the task easier. For example, the Zip-it opener promises to slide along the package and looks similar to a can opener, but works with the press of a button. Another tool designed for the task is called Open It! — and looks like miniature garden shears.

Alternatively, if you have tin snips in your tool box, use those. They cut effortlessly through the hard plastic packaging.

Preventative measures

If you’ve ever found yourself spending Christmas morning with a crying child who just can’t wait for you to break open that clamshell package and untwist those 14 twist ties, consider this alternative: Open the package ahead of time, save any packaging materials in case you have to return it later, put the toy in a box, and then wrap it. Your kid won’t care if the item isn’t in its original packaging. You avoid the potential stress and injury of rushing to open it.

Avoid the problem

There are various industry efforts under way to move away from the difficult-to-open clamshell packaging, so it is getting somewhat easier to avoid buying products wrapped in it.

For instance, since 2008, online retail giant Amazon has been phasing in Frustration Free packaging, which the company says is:

  • Recyclable and does not include excess packaging materials, such as hard plastic clamshell casings, plastic bindings and wire ties.
  • Designed to be opened without a box cutter or knife, while protecting products just as well as traditional packaging. Products can be shipped in their own boxes, without an additional shipping box.

It was a move welcomed by consumers and environmentalists alike, but there’s still plenty of diabolical clamshell still out there. So if you can’t avoid it, be prepared to do battle with it — without getting hurt.

Kari Huus and Craig Donofrio contributed to this post.

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