How to Cure Vacuum Forming Wrap Rage

by Jenny Knodell, IQS Editor

Jenny Knodell, Author

If there is only one thing I truly despise about shopping, besides spending too much money—it is vacuum formed plastic packaging. When I say they’re hard to open, that is a gross understatement. Try scissors, a kitchen knife, whatever. The packaging that encapsulates almost every small product these days is not opening without a fight. In fact, since 2004, about 25,000 consumers have been injured and 6.5 thousand per year end up in the emergency room because of clamshells. The average time to open them is well over 5 minutes, and it’s no walk in the park. There’s even a widely used term to describe the madness and frustration caused by trying to open plastic packaging—wrap rage. So I bet you’re wondering—why on earth do manufacturers make it so difficult to pry open their products? Why is it such a nightmare?

Wrap Rage Sample
A classic case of ‘wrap rage.’

Well, believe it or not, they have some pretty good reasons. Clamshells are designed to protect the items from moisture, tough handling during transportation and any other damage due to the shipping process. They are made from a transparent plastic material and display at least three sides of the product, allowing potential purchasers to fully inspect the product. Most importantly, they deter theft. Each day in the United States, millions of dollars of merchandise and consumer goods are stolen. With that kind of loss, I don’t blame companies for developing a type of packaging that is as hard to open as possible. If getting to the product at home takes tools, patience and technique, imagine how hard it would be for a thief to manage it on the store floor.

Thermoforming Packaging
Photo courtesy of Valk Industries, Inc.

Clamshell packaging also has wide design freedom and can fit the shape of almost any product, from cell phones to lighters to children’s toys. You might be surprised at how simple the manufacturing process, called thermoforming, really is. It literally takes seconds and starts with a plain sheet of acrylic plastic, LDPE or polyester. Heat up the sheet until it’s malleable, stretch it over a protruded or cavity mold, and let it cool. During this process, a vacuum is used to create an air-tight environment, which causes the plastic to perfectly conform to the mold; thus the name vacuum forming. And there you have it: a clamshell, ready to display a product and frustrate the masses.

Types of Clamshell Packaging
Photo courtesy of CJK Thermoforming Solutions.

Since I don’t think plastic packaging is fading out anytime soon, it’s time a technique was developed to help people open them without injury. Experts recommend a box cutter or heavy duty utility scissors with blunt tips; never a kitchen knife. The packaging should never be stabilized against your legs, and it’s important to always cut away from your body. The most effective method is to cut along the outer seam of the packaging, inside the sealed-shut edges. This will cut down on the chances of damaging the actual product, which is an unfortunate experience for few wrap rage victims. There are also some recent inventions of the made-for-TV variety that are specifically designed to open tough packaging. These products, however, are often themselves enclosed in a clamshell. Ah, irony. The most clever method I’ve found is using a can opener.

Clamshell Packaging Openers
Products made for opening clamshells…in clamshells.