Avoiding the styrofoam surprise


When I think back to what it was like opening up a new consumer product ten or fifteen years ago, one thing that sticks out is the obnoxious packaging that used to be so commonplace. It seemed like everything in those days came in an airtight container of styrofoam, which turned brittle and covered half the floor when you tried to liberate the product from its package.

These days, most items are wrapped more sensibly, and it appears that cardboard and other paper-based materials are the dominant packing choice. When you do see styrofoam, it’s typically in a more resilient form that doesn’t break off and make a mess. And of course, a much higher percentage of packing materials are recyclable. 

Of course, there are still some holdouts. For instance, I bought a few new lamps recently. When I opened the first box, little styrofoam pellets spewed out and landed all over the floor. I was even more careful with the second one, but no matter how delicately I tried to cut the lamp base out of the styrofoam, I still ended up with pellets stuck to the product, the carpet, and even my clothes.

What’s the takeaway here? Obviously, paper-based packing materials are a smart choice if they’ll work for your type of product. But if you have a good reason for sticking with styrofoam, be sure it’s not the old brittle kind that makes a huge mess. Your customers — and their brooms and vacuum cleaners — will thank you for it.