electronics manufacturers have been packaging their products in thick plastic packaging known as “clamshell” or “oyster” packaging for some time. This packaging not only helps show the contents inside and protects the contents from damage, but deters shoplifting, provides easier shipping and packaging, bar code scanning, as well as easier storage on retail shelves.
However, the strength of the packaging materials often far exceeds the amount needed to protect the item inside. This adds to manufacturing costs of the product, and after the packaging is opened it becomes a trash disposable and is not reused. Most clamshell packaging is also made from petroleum-based fossil fuels, which means that its cost is continually increasing.
Clamshell packaging is often very challenging to open and it can become a very frustrating experience as consumers try to wrench their precious item from the stubborn packaging; the various knives, scissors, box cutters and tools used to pry, tear or cut open the packaging sometimes result in a trip to the emergency room for stitches. The plastic packaging itself is sharp, too, once it has been cut open. Emergency room physicians report regular weekly injuries of gashes, amputated fingertips and severed tendons caused by consumers battling with packaging and devices to open it and have coined the phenomenon “wrap rage.” The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that in 2004 alone there were 6,500 emergency room visits due to plastic packaging-related injuries.
A group known as the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is attempting to address the clamshell packaging dilemma and is now a 300-member organization. They claim to be working on alternative packaging that is ecologically more friendly and recyclable. Resealable packaging, snap-out designs and perforated packaging could help make the packaging itself safer to open, reduce injuries and also lessen consumer frustration and wrap rage. Additionally, packaging accounts for nearly 1/3 of consumer garbage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and consumer plastics make up nearly 12 percent of all U.S. waste, most of which is not recycled.
The E.U. is ahead of the U.S. in regulating packaging design and waste. While California has Rigid Plastic Packaging Container Laws to encourage recycling of plastics and leads the world in the amount of recycling overall that it does, the remainder of the U.S. lags behind in recycling and most U.S. consumers do not recycle plastics.
It will take consumer pressure to help drive awareness of hard plastic packaging use as an environmental issue, and attention to cost reduction by companies to find alternatives to the clamshell package. Several forward-thinking companies have proposed blister packaging that is made of partially recycled materials, plant-based plastics. A recycling area in stores that sell products that are packaged in plastic materials would be a simple alternative: a consumer desk after the check-out where consumers can open their packages and be assisted, if necessary, then dispose of the packaging at the store where it can later be recycled or returned to the manufacturer for recycling.
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