Wrap Rage — You’ve Probably Experienced It

Opening a new TV shouldn't be a life-threatening exercise. Enough with the accessive, unreasonable packaging! Let us have our TVs in peace.
Wrap Rage

So I go to the store and pick up some item or another, take it home, and then I discover that I am going to need some help — like TNT, a howitzer, chain saw, Sawzall, plastic explosives — just to open the packaging. Have you tried to open a pack of batteries? Or, God forbid, an electric toothbrush head? Or how about the little plastic and tin foil compartment holding cold-remedy capsules? And, yeah, who hasn’t laced nearly a whole box of breakfast cereal across the counter or floor trying to open that pesky and impenetrable plastic bag actually holding the product in the box?

I want to take a selection of some of the worst examples of poor and frustrating product packaging, interview the CEO of the manufacturing company, hand them the product and ask: Can you open this? It would make a great “60 Minutes” segment to find out that the president of Eveready isn’t.

Over the years I have learned all too acutely that I am not unique, and that the odd things I notice have been noticed a lot by tons of other people. But still, while wrestling with a particularly pernicious plastic shell on a set of flashlights I thought I would never get to use for lack of access, I decided to search the internet for packaging problems and was pretty amazed to find out that the anger I was feeling is actually widespread and has a name: Wrap Rage. Not only that, but Wrap Rage as a title for the phenomenon goes back at least 20 years and the respected publication Consumer Reports even had awards for the packaging Hall of Shame in the 2005-2007 era called the Oysters. (Oysters being notoriously hard to open, which is fine for a mollusk but crazy for a computer zip drive package.)

Just as I suspected — because I myself have come this close — thousands of people every year are injured enough to go to the emergency room because the knife or box cutter slipped when they were trying in vain to open vitamins heat-wrapped in a plastic shell, or they put a screwdriver into their leg attempting to free a Barbie Doll from the twist-tied torture chamber she is embedded in. Who knew it would take patience and patients to be able to enjoy everyday products.

While surely Marquis de Sade types play an integral role in any self-respecting packaging design team, there are of course broader goals in devilish packaging that require the skills of people who possess Machiavellian sensibilities as well. On the one hand, it appears important to piss off consumers one at a time with evil product wraps, so why not also screw entire societies and the whole world with containers made of materials that our descendants in the 41st century will be studying for clues to our way of life 2,000 years before? What with indestructible and non-degradable materials, our human successors 20 centuries from now will wonder why the only identifiable remains of our time are ginormous hoards of crap buried underground and lining the seas that still clearly proclaim our stuff was “New and Improved!” and “As Seen on TV,” whatever that was.

The packaging industry, to some extent, both defends its designs — a deterrent to theft, to maintain freshness, ease of display, etc. — and says it is diligently working on creating less packaging and packaging made of better recyclable, biodegradable or compostable materials. But the truth is that the industry and manufacturers have been saying this for years and years, and yet the onslaught of hazardous materials and Wrap-Rage-worthy packaging only accelerates — exponentially, as it turns out, as e-commerce tightens its vise grip on the product supply chain. 

The only real way to change this scenario is for consumers to take individual action and stop buying diabolically packaged goods, which is difficult in that so few better-choice alternatives are available. Not to mention that the rate of recycling for American consumers remains disturbingly low while we also hear that recycled materials end up in landfills and oceans anyway. 

Actually, I am hopeful, as the strident debate over the existence of global warming seems to have subsided just lately, so maybe, perhaps, it is possible to unwrap Wrap Rage too. That, however, may prove to be the most difficult wrap to open.


Jeff RundlesJeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.