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March 2006 send to a friend printable version

The Oyster Awards
CR’s picks for America’s hardest-to-open packages

Illustration of a woman trying to open a package with a crowbar.
Illustration by Eric Larsen
Too often, today’s packages force consumers to fight tooth and nail to get at what’s inside. Make no mistake, we’re talking literally teeth, fingernails, knives, wire cutters, pliers, hacksaws, ice picks--whatever it takes to get the job done.

That’s the message we received, and those were some of the implements cited, when we asked visitors to ConsumerReports.org about packaging that gives them fits. Clearly, we struck a nerve.

You need a delicate balance of force and finesse when opening some bags to avoid spraying the kitchen counter with fruity flakes, while playthings have become captives in their plastic shrouds, restrained by wires, bands, straps, tape, glue, and screws. So heavily shrink-wrapped are CDs that companies sell a special gadget with a retractable blade to slice through the cellophane and security seal. A typical comment came from Stacey L. Oller of Portland, Ore., who railed against “CDs with all those stupid seal stickers and outer plastic that sticks because of static to everything and shreds into little bits when you tear it. Grrrr!”

Frustration isn’t the only result of a tangle with problem packaging. We heard about bloodied fingers, hands, and arms. Take those clear-plastic clamshells fitted around everything from makeup to inkjet cartridges. When sliced open, the plastic can cut you, and it’s all but impossible to extricate the contents without weaponry.

To determine the winners of the Consumer Reports Oyster Awards for hard-to-open packages, we began by sifting through 237 nominations from subscribers. Next, we shopped for the types of products readers mentioned most, tried to find even worse examples, and studied all the purchases in our labs. Finally, our technical experts watched a reporter open the packages, timing him and noting the obstacles he faced. The order of our choices is based on a combination of the time it took to crack the package and the potential hazard involved.

We also interviewed packaging experts and hoped that manufacturers would tell us why their products have become so hard to extricate and what is being done to address wrap rage. Few of the companies responded to our queries.