Painful Package: Hard Plastic Is Hard to Open

How to access toothbrushes and other products that are locked in their boxes.

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Dear Alpha Consumer,

My dear 85-year-old mother has trouble opening the ridiculously difficult plastic packaging that consumers have to pry apart and slice op en every day. Arthritis has twisted my mother's hands, so things that are tricky for the rest of us are nearly impossible—and always time consuming—for her. She has particular trouble with the Oral-B toothbrush. Have you heard of this problem, and what can people like my mother do about it?

You don't need arthritis to realize that the stiff packaging used on many products today is hard on our hands, let alone the environment.

I called Procter & Gamble, maker of the Oral-B toothbrush, to ask whether the company recognizes this problem and what its advice is to frustrated consumers. Alissa Hammond, external relations manager for Procter & Gamble, says the company now has cardboard boxes with an easy, peel-off top instead of the hard "clamshell" plastic packaging on electric Oral-B toothbrushes, which was used before P&G acquired the product from Gillette.

The hard plastic was a means of helping to deter thefts, she says. If you happen to have an old clamshell package, Hammond recommends looking at the photo on the back that explains how to open the package using scissors or pop the product out with your hands.

Hammond adds that the company's consumer relations department has received few complaints, so the company feels good about the packaging it uses and has no plans for further changes.

My advice: Try to avoid buying products encased in such stiff plastic. Consumers have plenty of purchasing power, and if companies notice that people are steering clear of certain kinds of packages, then they may be forced to make adjustments.

If you can't help but buy the dreaded plastic packaging, then always check to see if there's a description of how to remove the product easily. If there's not, use scissors instead of your hands. Perhaps most important, complain to companies when their packaging creates problems for you, or they may not realize just how much trouble they're causing their customers.