The Era Of Impenetrable Plastic Packaging Is Coming To An End

Plastic packaging has fueled many birthday party rants and standup comedy routines, but soon it may be much harder to come by. While environmentalists have been pushing to get rid of wasteful "clamshell" packaging for years, companies are finally starting to phase it out — because it's costing them money.

Rising oil prices might not seems so great when you're spending $70 to fill up your gas tank, but there's an unexpected perk: It's sparked the death of the clamshell. The New York Times reports that manufacturers are looking to use fewer petroleum-based materials, like plastic. The Times reports:

Target has removed the plastic lids from its Archer Farms yogurts, has redesigned packages for some light bulbs to eliminate plastic, and is selling socks held together by paper bands rather than in plastic bags.

Wal-Mart Stores, which has pledged to reduce its packaging by 5 percent between 2008 and 2013, has pushed suppliers to concentrate laundry detergent so it can be sold in smaller containers, and has made round hydrogen peroxide bottles into square ones to cut down on plastic use.

Still, the easiest thing to cut back on is what these products come in. Packages need to deter shoplifters and provide enough space for eye-catching graphics, and until recently clamshells were considered the best way to do that. However, a newer method is poised to take its place. The company MeadWestvaco closely fits a plastic bubble around products, then sandwiches the sheet between tamper-evident pieces of cardboard that are treated with a laminate that prevents tearing. Wal-Mart started using this packaging, called Natralock, last year. For pricey products like cameras and USB drives, it's becoming more popular than clamshells, which use about 60% more plastic.

We'll probably still see some clamshells on the market for years, but since new packages allow more products to be crammed on store shelves in addition to being cheaper, they're likely to become less common. Perhaps our children will live in a world where exchanging presents doesn't come with a high risk of self-inflicted scissor injuries.

Devilish Packaging, Tamed [NYT]