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Left Coast / Right Coast: The frustrations of modern packaging

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

I’d guess that most of us haven’t given much thought to packaging – unless and until you are asked to open something that you just purchased and that is contained in a modern package.

A few days ago, I purchased some D cell batteries. I brought them home and thought, perhaps naively, I’d just rip the package open and then use the batteries. But, oh no, it was not to be that simple.

See the batteries were packaged in a shrink-wrapped bubble pack. The transparent plastic package reminded me of Al Capone's Vault – which was “discovered” and opened by that useless TV personality Geraldo Rivera. (As an aside, it was one of the “hits of the year” with me – when they found absolutely nothing in the vault.) And Geraldo received another in the never-ending series of “black marks” which by now should have resulted in him covering top news stories such as “empty soda can discovered on Coney Island beach.”

I tried, vainly, to rip open the package. No luck. The plastic was simply too tightly shrunk around the batteries. So then I picked up a sharp knife to try and cut a little opening along the edge to allow me to remove the batteries from the package. Again, no luck.

I finally had to find an industrial strength pair of scissors, which allowed me to cut across the top of the package. But my travails didn’t stop there. Although the top of the package was fully removed and there was a little slit on top of the plastic, it took all my strength to pry the little slit open. Finally, the plastic gave way, and the speed with which the plastic came apart caused the batteries to spill on the floor. This precipitated our dog going nuts, barking his head off.

Another recent case was the coolant overflow tank on my car. I needed to add a little coolant to the reservoir. There is a little screw cap on top of the tank. I tried to unscrew it. No luck. I called my independent repair shop and asked them if there was a secret to opening the tank. They said: “push down on the cap, then turn it.” Sure enough, that worked.

While these relatively simple “opening a package” tasks should be easy, they most certainly are not. (Note, do not attempt to open a “child proof” package. Instead, hand the package to a ten year old and they will open it in seconds.)

This brings me to the owner of the New England Patriots. Why, you say? Well Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner, happens to own a box manufacturing company. In fact, it is the largest box manufacturer in the northeastern U.S.

Kraft purchased this company from his father-in-law, who started it. It is the backbone of his holdings – which have made him a very wealthy man. That asset allowed him to purchase the New England Patriots for the sum of $175 million, which was the highest price paid for an NFL team at that point. You might be interested to learn the Patriots are worth in excess of $2 billion today.

Kraft stated that he bought his father-in-law’s box company because he could see the tremendous growth potential in world trade – which would increase the market for boxes by a very large amount.

I guess he was correct. Just about everything we buy today comes inside a package of one type or another. Even automobiles, shipped from any over-seas port arrive in the U.S. inside either a ship, or a shipping container. The car is completely “packaged” inside a plastic shrink-wrapped cover. So you have a product (car) contained inside a package which itself is inside another package.

And for every product, some packaging manufacturer gets to sell a package. My last example, which should give us all “pause to think” concerns soft drink sodas (like Coca Cola).

I happen to have started a joint venture half owned by Continental Can Company. I learned that the cost of the contents of a Coke can (the soda) cost approximately $.08 while the package the soda comes in cost about $.11. And worse, the package lasts almost indefinitely, while the contents last only a few seconds. And we’ve all read about how plastic and other discarded packaging materials are ruining our oceans. Perhaps the worst example is bottled water. The contents costs pennies (most of which is the handling to get the water to the bottling plant) but again the package can cost $.08 or $.09.

Guess that’s why I routinely re-fill my used water bottles from our sink. And I note that on just about every water fountain I use (such as in my gym) there is a running summary of how many water bottles using the fountain has saved.

Perhaps in 100 years (if humans are still here) we will be buried four feet deep in discarded packaging.

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