Elizabeth Wright
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Pesky Packaging

I’m standing in the kitchen clutching a large pair of sharp scissors. I’m about to inflict severe injury to – an innocent little blue box of teabags that I cannot get into. I know manufacturers have a duty to protect their products, but nowadays many seem to have gone a cling film and cardboard wrap too far.

For five annoying minutes I’ve tried to get my tea bags out, I’m gasping for a cuppa, but neither finger-nails nor teeth can break through this resistant wrapping. There’s no corner to get started on or tab to prise up. A good stab is the only answer and, as the contents finally spill out over the worktop, I have an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

Later that day, as I relax in my soothing scented bath, candles flickering, gentle background music, I suddenly realise I’ve squidged away the last piece of soap. I need more to finish the cleaning job. A new bar sits invitingly on the shelf. My heart sinks – it’s another cardboard and cling film item with a posh red and gold motif. The outer wrapping rips off easily –hooray- but the clear plastic is going to be severely challenging. My fingers are wet; the surface becomes slippery, the more I search for an end, the more unyielding the wrapper becomes. My bath water is getting decidedly chilly as I do battle with this bar of soap. I’ve got two options, stay grubby or get out and hunt for the scissors. They’re down in the kitchen drawer, reclining in their glory at winning the tea bag battle.

Reluctantly, I haul myself out of the bath, wrap a towel around my dripping torso, and nip downstairs. Making a dash back up the stairs, my modesty covering gets caught in my feet and the rectangle of finest pink Turkish cotton drops to the floor. To my shame a well filled bus halts outside, caught in a traffic jam, and all the passengers can see every inch of my wobbly, southward slipping body. The soap wrapping gets the full attention of my now foul temper and stab marks appear all over the jasmine scented bar.

Toilet rolls, now there’s another dodgy design problem. Why seal up the ends? The pretty coloured rolls are well contained in easy to get off wrappers, but inside the packaging there lurks another challenge. Dollops of hard glue have stuck the ends firmly in place. And they’re not coming off without a fight. I try teasing a tiny section of an end invitingly sticking up, only to have it tear off. I grab a lump of gluey mass and carefully pull, but the liberally applied sealant has sunk through at least six layers of tissue, so a good ten percent of the roll rips off. But at least the end is now free. The battle, though, is not over. As my daughter bangs on the bathroom door, shouting “Mum, I’ve got to go to the toilet RIGHT NOW”, I’m trying to find some usable paper to finish the job. Another pull of the newly revealed end only results in a thin sliver of tissue parting company with the roll and curling up in my frantically clutching fist. Another bang on the door, and as I hear “Mum, I’m going to wet myself in a minute,” I just grab a lump of tissue to finish off my ablutions. There is now a heap of toilet paper confetti on the floor and the mangled remains hang pathetically from the holder. I know what is coming next as daughter enters the bathroom, “We need some more toilet roll in here,” But I’ve forgotten to buy any, so she has to make do with the substitute that I pass round the door, rough edged kitchen roll that doesn’t have a problem with its ends.

As we sit down to our fish and chip dinner, a splash of ketchup on our pieces of cod was needed. Here again designers just haven’t tested their products. A new bottle has an easy to get off screw top, but underneath lurks an unyielding piece of silver foil, thick enough to provide extra insulation to the side of the next moon shot rocket. Does it have a pull-off tab? Not a hope. Three broken fingernails later, the result of my useless scrabbling to prise up an edge, my chilling fish are no nearer to their tasty addition. Back to the good old kitchen knife, and I cut a satisfying circle in the foil. On with the screw top and away we go with now cold fish and chips. Doesn’t anyone road test their products?

It’s the same problem with milk cartons, only this time their screw tops won’t unscrew. The strongest man in Britain would be surely tested. I don’t have one of those special appliances you can buy to do this job, so I shove the top of the carton in the door alongside the hinges and gently pull the door shut. In theory the force of the door should help me turn the top, but it usually doesn’t. The container collapses under the strain and half its contents end up on the floor.

What about children’s toys that are strapped in their boxes more firmly than astronauts on a space shuttle with those little strips of tough black plastic that you can’t get scissors around. It’s quicker to rip the cardboard box into pieces and pick everything up afterwards. Unfortunately, any assembly instructions have now been decimated and He Man ends up with a leg stuck where his head should be.

Sweetie bags. My advice is to get a large bowl underneath any packet you want to open. A black line guides you to the area you should just be able to tear. In theory this sounds fine, in practise it’s a nightmare. The thick top strips are heat sealed so they are more impassable than a castle’s portcullis, and once you’ve succeeded in cutting opening the packet, the rest of the bag is so fragile that the weight of the sweets causes it to quickly rip and deposit them on the floor. Hence the bowl.

And don’t get me started on ring pull cans and packets of chocolate digestives. Now where have I put those scissors?

© Elizabeth Wright