Last fall my sump pump drain line plugged, and I decided to fix it myself instead of paying a plumber. So I went to the hardware store and bought a rubber doodad called a Drain King that fit inside the pipe and theoretically blasted through the clog. I say theoretically because I never got to use it. The Drain King came packaged in stiff, heavy plastic, and when I used my pocketknife to open it, the knife slipped and punctured the Drain King, rendering it useless. By then, my basement was taking on water, so I had to call a plumber after all.
The Drain King would have fit perfectly inside a cardboard carton. I could have opened it easily, attached the Drain King to my garden hose, threaded it through the pipe to the clog, turned on the hose, and then sat back and eaten a bowl of ice cream while the Drain King was working away, deep in the bowels of my drainage system. But some genius at the Drain King company thought it should be packaged in a clamshell container that can’t be opened with a chain saw. People gripe about all the troubles in our country, and the problems our next president will have to solve, but no one points out that it’s nearly impossible to open the things we buy. We’ll eventually all die of starvation when we’re unable to open the packages our food comes in.
The Hints from Heloise lady says the clamshell package that the Drain King came in can be handily opened with a can opener, which I tried, but it didn’t work. You can go on Amazon and buy a special cutting tool that opens plastic packaging, but it comes in a plastic container and so can’t be opened. One of the reviewers said, “You won’t know how you lived without it,” though it appears I’ll have to find out.
The second-worst package ever invented is the blister pack that pills come in. The pills break apart when you try to push them through the foil backing. I had a horrible cold not long ago and tried to take NyQuil so I could sleep. By the time I got the package open, my cold was gone. I don’t like taking pills, so when I finally break down and take one, I’m too weak to open the package.
The most sensible container ever devised was the 6.5-ounce Coke bottle. It fit comfortably in the hand, held just the right amount of pop, and could be easily opened on the machine from which it was purchased. Jerry Sikes, a kid I grew up with, could open Coke bottles with his teeth, which had a slight overbite and fit perfectly under the knurled edges of the cap. I didn’t much care for Jerry, but he was certainly handy to have around.
The best packages are the ones that fit seamlessly with the product they contain. The Pringles can is a marvel of human invention. Mother Nature is a whiz at packaging, too. Humans could have thought for centuries and not devised a better package than the orange. Sufficiently protective, yet easily cut. Attractive, without any loss of function. Eggshells are another example of fine packaging. Amazingly rigid given their weight, yet flexible enough to withstand the rigors of birth. Pharmaceutical companies could learn a lot from the average egg.
Engineers predict that, within a few years, our cars will be driverless. We’ll tell them where we want to go and then settle in and read a book or take a nap while our cars deliver us safely to our destinations. I hate driving, so I’m looking forward to that. But just think how much better our lives would be if the engineers devoted their considerable skill to inventing better packaging. Yes, we’ll have driverless cars, but we won’t have time to go anywhere for all the time we’ll spend opening packages.
If I were the new president, I’d put our nation’s engineers to work on that. The economy, climate change, and world peace would have to wait until we got our packaging problem sorted out.
Philip Gulley is the author of A Place Called Hope.