Packaging and Other Little Annoyances of Modern Life

Corrugated shipping container, one type of &qu...

Corrugated shipping container, one type of “cardboard box” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grrrrrr.  I just received a package from a clothing company (one nice, if expensive, thing about losing weight is requiring new underwear, hopefully sexier than the prior bigger pieces, or at least stuff that fits).  Now if I told you what and how much I ordered, it would be too much information, but in any event each and every piece was separately packaged in plastic wrap that had the toughness of rhinoceros hide, taped shut with invisible (no, truly invisible, meaning unfindable) tape AND with a hanger.  Now, who in the world hangs up underpants and bras?  I certainly don’t.  So the plastic hangers will be thrown into the recycling after, well, no use whatsoever, as will the plastic bags (each of which is of course plastered with printing stating that it is not a toy and that it is dangerous to wear over one’s head–more on that later).  After I tediously ripped and tore and pulled the garments out of the packaging, it seemed to me that the packaging no longer fit in the box, there was so much of it.

A few weeks ago, with great anticipation, I awaited the delivery of two pieces of furniture I ordered for my living room.  At no place in the website did it say that the pieces of furniture would arrive, indeed, in pieces, in several pieces each.  But they did.  The pieces (a coffee table and a side table in Arts and Crafts style) arrived in two immense boxes, left at my front door because I did not order the “platinum glove” service, which would have doubled the cost of the furniture.  The story of my putting them together, just me and me little Allen wrench, is undoubtedly more humorous, if more strenuous, than my point here.  But that point is that the amount of packaging would have provided anyone temporarily bereft of a roof and walls with all the protection from the elements they could have desired, including plenty of insulation.  Although the wood in the furniture weighed more than the styrofoam in the packaging, the volume of the packaging was much greater than the actual furniture.  And, by the way, for those who don’t know, styrofoam (whether those awful little peanuts or big blocks of it) is NOT recyclable.  I don’t know why, it just is NOT.  The cardboard, of which the packaging was plentifully supplied, is recyclable, but for furniture, the cardboard is large enough to be actually hard to lift and move around without sweeping all untethered objects from all surfaces in the house.  The packaging alone, after I was finished pulling and tearing (and that was just hair out) and lifting and dragging just to get the pieces out of the boxes, filled my entire dining room and none of the styrofoam could be fitted back into the cardboard boxes.  (Old Fred Allen (I think) joke:  If you plan to recan a can of worms you’ve opened, you’ll need a bigger can.)

It took longer to figure out how to get the packaging into small enough pieces and concentrated enough to fit into the back of my car so I could take it to the dump (ahem, sorry, transfer station, we don’t have a dump here in Estes Park) than it did to assemble the furniture.  And then, if not for the help of a true gentleman, it would have taken me just as long to get the cardboard, which had expanded in transit, out of the car so it could be tossed on the proper heap.  The styrofoam, meanwhile, simply took up all available room in my trash bin for several weeks.  Remember, it can’t be recycled, just popped into a landfill, where it will be found by archaeologists (possibly with six legs, the way things are going) thousands of years from now who will undoubtedly assume that it is filler to separate the layers of trash.  What else could it be for?

Plastic Ocean

Plastic Ocean (Photo credit: Kevin Krejci)

Now I may be justifiably considered by my readers (either of the two of you) to be grumpy and ungrateful.  After all, I can afford to buy furniture and underwear and have it sent to me in the privacy and comfort of my own home.  (Who said I could afford it, by the way?)  But I don’t think it’s particularly ungrateful to be annoyed at (and concerned by) the amount of packaging that seems adrift in our civilization (if we choose to call it that).  After all there are now miles wide garbage patches in the northern part of the Pacific and at some place in the Atlantic where all this plastic, much of it packaging, seems to go to rest, twirling peacefully around, breaking down (very very very very slowly) in the sunshine and being ingested by krill (who can’t apparently digest it).  And each increment of packaging uses up petroleum resources (that’s where plastic comes from, folks) when we could, after all, be burning it up in our oversized and underefficient SUVs.  (All except mine, of course, which is a Nissan Murano that gets very good gas mileage, thank you very much.)  And cardboard comes from trees which we are cutting down by the hectare (nifty word for a whole lot of acres) to make stuff like cardboard and toilet paper that just gets tossed out.  And, by the way, our landfills are getting, guess what, filled (although a lot of them seem to be turning into sources of natural gas, so there’s something good in everything).

Okay, enough with the serious stuff.  This blog is supposed to be, if not funny (which I’ve discovered I’m not always capable of achieving), but at least light-hearted.  So let’s get back to packaging as an annoyance.  In fact, let’s get right to the most annoying portion of packaging, those little styrofoam peanuts mentioned above.  They may work wonders for getting Great Aunt Maudie’s cut crystal vase from one part of the country to another without the treasure arriving in lots of little sharp pieces, but they are maddening.  First and foremost, they adhere like post-it notes to anything they touch except each other.  Plunge your hand into a box filled with styrofoam peanuts and you may or may not pull out one of the items packed therein.  I guarantee that you will pull out a hand festooned with styrofoam peanuts.  And while it is fun to watch a kitten attempt to get a feather (or a styrofoam peanut) off its paw, it is not fun to scrape the darned things off your hand only to find they’ve attached themselves to the other hand.  And when you finally get them  off your person, you discover that they have sprinkled themselves all over the table, floor, chairs, in fact, anywhere and everywhere in whatever room where you’ve been so foolish as to open the package.  Even more, styrofoam peanuts are not transparent and if the package contains small items or more than one thing, the effort to find all the hidden objects in the box without pouring out or scattering the styrofoam peanuts over the immediate world can be truly comical–that is, to anybody who is not actually engaged in the process.  Finally, disposing of styrofoam peanuts is simply impossible.  If you try to pour them out of their cardboard box into a plastic bag, you will be living with styrofoam peanuts attached via static electricity to every surface of your home for months.  And you would be surprised how few people and businesses actually want more styrofoam peanuts, even packaging businesses.  And, again, they cannot be recycled.  So it often seems as if when you get a package from someone protected from breakage by styrofoam peanuts that the actual package, the permanent shipment, is of styrofoam peanuts and only incidentally Great Aunt Maudie’s cut crystal vase.  Grrrrr indeed.

Styrofoam peanuts

Styrofoam peanuts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About that warning regarding “this is not a toy and do not place over one’s head, suffocation hazard”.  I understand that the warning is meant for, say, parents or pet owners so that they will keep plastic bags away from children and pets.  I get it.  But it just seems, on the face of it, that since the intended possible victims can’t read, putting the notice on the plastic bag is a little, well, dumb.  And for those who can read, possibly the Darwin Awards people should weigh in on this issue.

Which brings me to the other annoyances of modern life I was hoping to share with you today.  Warning labels have reached beyond all common sense.  There are warnings on electric hair dryers not to use them while in the bathtub.  (I would imagine it would be a very quick way to get a permanent.) There are warnings on coffee makers that contents, when brewed, will be hot.  There are warnings on frozen food that the food must be cooked before being eaten (salmon popsicle anyone?).  Extension cords have tags on them warning that it is an electrical hazard to chew on the cord when it is plugged into the wall.  (And here I thought it would go so well with my salmon popsicle.)  Knives now have warning labels stating that they are sharp.  (Heavens, I was trying to make sure I bought the special, safe, dull knives.)  Public restrooms assure one that the hot water tap issues hot water.  Right-side rear view mirrors announce that objects are closer than they appear.  (Gee, the fact that the approaching semi is a toy car from the right rear-view mirror and a behemoth from the left rear-view mirror wasn’t my first clue?)  I can think of many more, as can you.  Which leads to the really annoying parts of this, and there are two of them:  First, when everything has a warning label, nobody reads them and nobody pays any attention, so what purpose do they serve?  And second, and here’s the purpose they serve:  consider that each and every warning label you read came about, without a doubt, because some genius did just what the label warns against and found a lawyer to file suit against the company that manufactured the item.  It could not possibly be the fault of the, ahem, not-quite-up-to-average-intelligence, uh, person who put a cup of hot coffee between her thighs as she was driving away from the MacDonald’s that she got burned, now could it?  MacDonald’s should have made the coffee less hot or at least put a warning label on the cup.  (I believe they actually do now.  Yikes.)  And just think how annoyed the lady in question would have been if the coffee were lukewarm.  I’m surprised that they don’t have a warning label stating that liquids in open cups could possibly spill.  Somebody’s bound to sue about that if they don’t.

Foam Cup

The only safe way to serve liquids in a foam cup (Photo credit: pmeidinger)

And, briefly, a final annoyance (well, not final, there are lots of others, but this is the last one I will inflict upon you today):  Items that one orders that require assembly.  Is it just me, or do the instruction sheets, in no matter what language or how many of them, seem to be written by three-year-olds?  And again, is it only I who always discovers they’ve left something out of the instructions, usually along the lines of just how they expect you to insert the dowels attaching two heavy pieces of wood when they provide no hints about how to brace the wood.  (Okay, most of these items should be assembled by two people, at least, but after all I live alone with two very uncooperative cats who don’t like constructing furniture, laundry carts, or electronic items (they like disassembling them with their claws, but that’s a different story), and the piece of furniture, laundry cart or whatsit doesn’t actually come with another person to help with the assembly.)  And, of course there’s the simple fact that I have never, no, not even once, ordered a disassembled anything that had a complete roster of parts.  With the coffee table and side table, still fresh in my memory, each one was short one tightening washer and it’s a good thing I ordered both, because the side table did not have an Allen wrench that fit the bolts.  Grrrr.

And, by the way, everything I’ve said regarding packaging, assembly and warning labels does not apply to any product manufactured by Apple.  Just so you know, the packaging is beautiful, the information is succinct and complete, and they come fully assembled and ready to go, with cords and patching cables that are interchangeable.  So, here’s yet another reason to love Apple.

Okay, I am now going to have my dinner (salmon popsicle and electric extension cord casserole) and a martini (no warning labels about possible intoxication, hmmmnh, interesting, no wonder they call liquor an adult beverage), which should pull me down from assembly hell into the comfort of new underwear and fully assembled furniture.  May it be the same with you.

English: Plastic Bag Farm Ever wondered where ...

English: Plastic Bag Farm Ever wondered where all the plastic bags come from? Not a good crop this year! The bags are supposedly scaring off birds in a field adjacent to the A171 (as you can see on the left it isn’t working). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6 responses

  1. Pingback: 10 Minor Annoyances « THE SCARECROW

  2. Gail, you have summed up the idiocy of this modern day civilization perfectly. I think both of your readers (I’m sure there are more than two), were envisioning the last time they had to deal with opening a package, and nodding their head in total agreement. It is just ridiculous how wasteful our culture is, and how sue-happy people are, and how greed has overtaken common sense and caring for our planet. It is no wonder that some people just up and leave civilization completely. I think they are the smart ones.

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