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Elizabeth Rogers Headshot

Death of the Clamshell

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The extinction of the dreaded plastic species can't come soon enough.

A couple of months ago my son Emmett got a small toy knight. Of course it came in an impenetrable clamshell package that he was trying to open himself. I told him I would help him pry the thing open after I took care of a couple of things. After all, as any parent who has experienced this type of packaging knows, it's necessary to come armed with lethal weapons -- industrial-strength scissors, knives, hacksaws, or whatever it takes to get the job done -- because those clamshells can fight back in a mean way.

But like most kids -- and all 8 year old boys -- he was excited and impatient about playing with his knight and decided to stealthily go at the task alone.

A few minutes later I heard my son's terrified voice yelling over and over from the kitchen, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Knowing something was very wrong I went flying in and found that in his attempt to open the toy package with a pair of scissors he had lacerated his hand bad enough to expose the connective tissue. I rushed him to the ER, and three hours and seven stitches later we finally opened that damn clamshell package and played knights.

Apparently such incidents aren't too uncommon. The Consumer Product Safety Commission states that packaging-related injuries send roughly 6,000 Americans to the ER every year. Not an ideal way to spend a gift-giving holiday, if you ask me.

So I was very happy to read a recent article in the New York Times reporting that Amazon.com is creating a "frustration-free packaging" initiative, which will eliminate clamshell packaging for products made by Mattel, Fisher-Price, Microsoft and the electronics maker Transcend. Instead, these products will be sold in plain cardboard boxes that are not only consumer-friendly, but environmentally friendly as well.

For Amazon founder and father of four Jeffrey Bezos, the mission was personal. "I shouldn't have to start each Christmas morning with needle nose pliers and wire cutters," he told the Times.

Amen to that.

Here in the U.S., we consume more than 30 million tons of plastic annually -- all of which is made from petroleum byproducts, and little of which gets recycled (or is recyclable). For the average toy, the volume of the package is often five to ten times larger than the volume of the toy. In fact product packaging is the number one component of the nation's waste stream. So any effort to eliminate superfluous plastic is not only a step closer to a less wasteful, more sustainable society, but could save a few thousand people from having Christmas ruined by an unruly clamshell that sends them for stitches at the emergency room.

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