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Excessive packaging dangerous, frustrating for consumers

by | Jan 16, 2014 | Archives

Many consumers consumed with rage about product packaging, CBC Marketplace poll reveals

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The holiday gifts may all be unwrapped, but many consumers remain consumed with rage about product packaging, a CBC Marketplace poll reveals.

The majority of Canadians say hard-to-open packaging is frustrating and even dangerous.

“Wrap rage” refers to the frustration people feel when trying to pry open hard plastic packaging that seems all but impenetrable. More than 90 per cent of Canadians who took part in the Marketplace poll say they have experienced rage when opening a product in the past five years, while 69 per cent say they have injured themselves in the process.

“It’s the opposite to what packaging should be,” says Alan Middleton, professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business, in an interview with Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson. “Packaging should invite somebody in to it, to use it, to make it easy to use.”

In addition to the poll, Marketplace asked viewers to send in nominations for the most frustrating and hard-to-open product packaging. Marketplace tested a long list of products for the show’s Wrap Rage Awards. The dubious honours went to products in three categories: most frustrating, most dangerous and most wasteful.

The award “winners” will be announced on Marketplace’s episode Wrap Rage, which airs on CBC television on Friday at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. in NL). The show is also inviting viewers to participate by Tweeting about their own experiences with wrap rage during the broadcast. Some tweets will be chosen to appear on-air during the show.

‘Just plain dumb’

Excessive packaging is still common on store shelves, Middleton says. But “to make people annoyed and frustrated,” he argues, “is just plain dumb.”

More than 90 per cent of Canadians who took part in the Marketplace poll say they have experienced rage when opening a product in the past five years, while 69 per cent say they have injured themselves in the process. (CBC)

“What’s going on here is marketers are spending a lot of money in North America on trying to make their products better,” he says. “A lot of manufacturers are spending too little attention on their packaging.”

Despite greater awareness of environmental issues among both manufacturers and consumers, Middleton says excess packaging is still considered a good business strategy by many.

“[Companies] know bigger sells better,” he says. “So making the product appear more than it really is, there’s a lot of research in those areas that encourages that thinking. So they’re proceeding ahead on that kind of knowledge without paying attention to the negatives that are coming up.”

However, entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den Dragon David Chilton argues that this way of thinking is flawed.

“It never makes sense to annoy your customers,” he says.

“What’s the rationale behind it? [Companies have] got to understand, obviously, how difficult it is to get into [their packaging], so there must be a reason,” he says. “Is there a more creative way of getting around it than annoying your customers?”

Packaging has a purpose

Jayson Myers, president and CEO of the industry group Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, says that packaging is designed to showcase merchandise, secure products so they don’t become damaged, and prevent theft.

While some Canadian consumers may find packaging excessive, Myers notes that many products are manufactured overseas and imported, so Canadian retailers may have limited control over the way the products are packaged.

“If it makes it easier for consumers and better for consumers, then manufacturers should take a look at it,” Myers says. But, he notes, “leadership needs to come from the consumer.”

Environmental toll

The Marketplace poll also found that most Canadians (78 per cent) feel that manufacturers should be required to pay a tax when they choose to use non-recyclable packaging.

Noted environmentalist and CBC’s The Nature of Things host David Suzuki nominated a product for Marketplace’s Wrap Rage Awards: a small USB key in a giant cardboard and plastic package.

“I started frothing, I’m sorry,” he says about the package he nominated for the show.

Suzuki says that while he finds hard-plastic packaging frustrating to open, it’s the wastefulness that weighs on him more heavily.

“The ideal thing, of course, is to have a minimum amount of packaging,” Suzuki says.

“We are not thinking ecologically,” Suzuki adds. “Every bit of the packaging, all of this comes out of the earth. And when we’re finished with it, it ultimately goes back into the earth. That is simply not sustainable.

“What grieves me, what makes me angry and very sad at the same time, is that we’ve had 50 years of environmental activism and I would’ve thought in half a century, things like this would have disappeared long ago,” he says. “We enable it by continuing to buy this stuff.”

Cari Howard, who helps manage recycling for the city of Waterloo, Ont., says that much of the packaging on the market is not easily recyclable.

“Packaging is a big problem,” she says. “Any time we have different types of packaging together – cardboard, little ties that go in the garbage, and plastic – if they can’t be separated into our separate categories, we can’t recycle them.”

Howard says this means that too much packing is still diverted to landfill.

“Plastic, paper those things can be recycled into something new,” she says. “Anything that ends up in the landfill is wasted and gone forever.”

More than five billion pounds of plastic that make its way into Canadian landfills every year, and environmentalists say reducing packaging is one way to cut the volume of waste.

“Knowing that the packaging that you didn’t want in the first place is just going to landfill is unbelievably frustrating,” Howard says.


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January 2014