New packaging may end 'wrap rage'

A clamshell package.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Less than a week to go until Christmas and parents are already bracing themselves for "wrap rage." That's the mental condition that develops while you're trying to pry open all those hermetically toys and electronics. So-called "clamshell" packaging has helped deter store theft for years. But the plastic shells are notoriously hard to open. And I swear you could lose a finger just trying to get that one-inch memory card out of its cage. But as Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, relief is in sight.


Sarah Gardner: When Sony Electronics held its annual sales meeting this year, the highlight was an in-house video -- three executives trying to open a package of Sony headphones.

Sony internal DVD: The first person who opens up their package and removes the headphones is the winner. Get ready, get set, go!

One bites into the clamshell package. Another tries sawing through it. Fake blood spurts from his hand. All in good fun, but Sony says it's serious about what it calls its "Death to the Clamshell" campaign. Sony's Gemini Babla is on the case.

Gemini Babla: We're looking at some really exciting alternatives working with different types of glues and materials, recyclable papers.

Sony vows to roll out new containers at Best Buy and Wal-Mart next year. But Microsoft is already selling some computer mice at Best Buy that open with a tear strip on each side. It's working with Amazon.com too. Amazon is shipping 19 toys and electronics this holiday season in what it calls "frustration-free packaging." Amazon convinced Microsoft, Fisher-Price and some others to jump on board

Patty Smith: So we're gonna start with the Fisher-Price Sing and Go Choo Choo. Which is an adorable product.

Amazon's Patty Smith stopped by Marketplace to show off the new and simpler packaging. But first, she forced us to open up the frustrating kind. Here's Marketplace senior editor Liza Tucker taking a stab at it.

Liza Tucker: Oh my God! OK, well I got one corner open.

Smith: Do you need tools yet?

Silly question.

Tucker: I need a machete.

She just needed a box cutter. And 10 seconds later, a bandage. For real. That's when Smith took pity and brought out the new packaging. Inside one cardboard postal box was a single plastic bag, with the choo-choo pieces tightly locked together and a few major parts ? gasp ? in no packaging at all.

Smith: There's none of this plastic clamshell casing, plastic coated wire tires or these four color boxes that may or may not be recyclable depending on wear you live. It's just plain brown corrugate, 100 percent recyclable.

Of course, an online retailer like Amazon doesn't have to worry about theft protection or shelf appeal. That's why the Choo Choo and other products repackaged for Amazon will still be sold the traditional way in stores, for now. Sony's Gemini Babla says it's hard to come up with clamshell substitutes that foil thieves and also dazzle.

Babla: The packaging needs to be a merchandising tool. It has to look good, it has to reflect our brand values. So for us, packaging, the look of it, is a critical element of the success of the brand.

Babla says Sony wants any containers it uses to even feel good to the customer. A few companies have designed clamshell alternatives where consumers can pop the product out of the package, like a piece of gum in a blister pack. Environmentalists say the ideal, not yet realized, is packaging that can be recycled into another useful product. And doesn't put you in the emergency room, or the loony bin.

Tucker: They used 50 wires. UHH!

In Los Angeles, I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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