Coffee heat rising

Rant: Costco’s consumer-proof packaging

So I did end up springing for $25 (plus 8.3 percent tax, for a total of $27.06) to buy the yearned-after mineral make-up from Costco. Pretty nice stuff. I like it. However…

Take a look at this:

That large flat chunk of annealed plastic and cardboard is what Costco deemed necessary to deliver five small plastic vials, a tube of lip gloss, and four small makeup brushes to the unwashed and thieving masses. By way of perspective, each of those floor tiles is 13 inches square.

Up at the top, you see the tools required to get into the thing: a box-cutter, a wrench, and a no-longer-sharp knife.

Yes. To get at a few ounces of colored face powder, I had to spend a good fifteen minutes hacking away at thick, almost impenetrable plastic. You’ll notice that no amount of struggling removed the entire plastic bubble from the hard cardboard backing to which it was sealed. No. I had to carve out every. single. separate. piece in this kit. To do so, I risked injury and infection: all the edges where the box-cutter sliced through the plastic are sharp as a razor. And so is the box-cutter itself.

I wonder how Costco would like the lawsuit that would have descended upon its management had I cut my hand and then gotten one of those flesh-eating bacterial infections in the wound?

Once I’d removed the plastic vials of make-up, I still couldn’t open the goddamned things!

No. Each one was sealed shut with a strip of plastic that could not be lifted with the fingernails and peeled off. Now I had to go and get a kitchen knife and slice each of the five vials along the seam where the lid meets the jar. Besides taking forever (by now I was running late to choir), this of course wrecked the edge on  my knife.

Why is it necessary to seal every flicking piece of merchandise individually in consumer-proof packaging? Industry estimates suggest that 43 percent of “shrinkage” comes from employee theft, as opposed to 36 percent for shoplifting. “Whatever method employees use to steal,” the New York Times reports, “their take is more substantial than that of the average shoplifter. [Researcher Joshua] Bamfield’s global study of retail theft found that larcenous employees averaged $1,890 in theft, compared with $438 for shoplifters.” So is there really a good reason to put customers at risk of injury and to pack the landfills with vast piles of excess plastic packaging that will litter the planet for the eons?

Speaking of littering the planet for the eons, now get an eyeballful of this!


The last time I bought toilet paper at Costco, I absent-mindedly picked up the Kirkland brand instead of my usual Charmin’.

I hate Kirkland’s toilet paper. Not because the TP itself isn’t perfectly fine—it’s quite good, comparable to Charmin’, which IMHO is the best toilet paper on the market. But when you peel off the plastic sealed around a lifetime supply of Kirkland TP, what comes out is a big bundle of individual rolls…every. single. one. of. them. wrapped. individually. in. plastic. Because I like to keep several rolls in a straw basket in the bathroom, every time I pad out to the garage to refill the basket, I have to unwrap a half-dozen rolls of over-packaged toilet paper. I just hate that!

WHY? WHY, WHY, WHY?????????

Why on earth is it necessary to double-wrap every single roll of flicking toilet paper, adding a bushel of plastic to the landfill for every package of Kirkland TP you buy at Costco?

Answer: it’s not.

Charmin’ wraps its entire lifetime-supply package in one sheet of plastic. Even that is undesirable, but at least it’s better than Kirkland’s strategy.

According to Discover Magazine, 63 pounds of plastic packaging per person ends up in America’s landfills each year. Ninety-three percent of people six years of age and older excrete bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the manufacture of plastic, in their urine.

What do you bet about 62 of those pounds comes from overpackaging like this? It abuses the customer on both ends of the retail cycle: in delivery and merchandising, and in clean-up after the mess produced.

If you complain to Costco about its absurd overpackaging (as I’ve been known to do in person), you’ll be told that it’s not their fault! It’s the suppliers who just insist on packaging products in consumer-proof plastic.

And that is about as specious as it gets. Costco has every bit as much clout as Walmart, an outfit infamous for its bullying of suppliers. All Costco has to do is tell Borghese it can’t sell its pricey products to the vast market that is the Costco membership unless it packages said products sanely. Borghese’s marketing people know that they’re reaching a large group of people who would not otherwise buy that company’s products. Most Costco consumers are savvy enough to know that the expensive stuff you buy in department stores (where Borghese is normally marketed) is really just the same darn stuff you can get in a drugstore at much lower cost. Threatened with a Costco boycott, Borghese will package the product in more responsible wrapping.

This make-up I bought: Costco sells a lot of it. In addition to the starter kit you see above (along with the tool kit required to get into it), Costco also sells individual packages of mineral powder foundation and eyeshadow. I like it. The effect is much nicer than the L’Oréal I’ve been using. But I probably will not buy it from Costco again.

That’s how much this annoys me. I won’t buy it at Dillard’s or Saks, either, for reasons of common sense: department-store cosmetics are obscenely overpriced. Probably I’ll look at Whole Foods, which carries eco-faddish products like “mineral make-up”; failing that, I’ll check the beauty supply store next door to the WF where I shop. I’d rather pay a few bucks more and not risk slicing my hands, and I deeply resent being forced against my will to add 63 pounds of plastic to the landfill.

When is Costco going to get with the program?

16 thoughts on “Rant: Costco’s consumer-proof packaging”

  1. interesting. here (northern california) when i get the kirkland brand tp, each individual roll is wrapped in paper which i kind of like because i feel like paper is more easily recycled than plastic.

  2. The Kirkland toilet paper rolls used to be individually wrapped in paper, so I was shocked when, about 12-18 months ago, they switched to plastic. You’re right, wrapping them individually is bad enough, but at least before, the paper would biodegrade where the plastic is going to just sit there for the most part.

    We have a recycling program that allows you to recycle plastic, so we actually recycle the wrappers from the toilet paper, but I know that it’s very rare to have a recycling program that allows you to recycle like that, and for those that do, I’m sure most people just automatically throw it in the wastebasket anyways.

    Amazon has actually done what Costco won’t, and has insisted that many vendors provide the option of ‘frustration free packaging’. Many items you purchase will have the option or tag indicating that it will come without the annoying (and dangerous) wrapping that is so common.

  3. If I didn’t have Mr. FS around, I would be unable to open most medicine containers. BTW, I think mineral makeup is pretty much the same wherever you get it, so you can get a minimally packaged drugstore brand.

    I bet the makeup packaging is to prevent shiplifting of all the little parts.

  4. @ Carrie & MoneyBeagle: As far as I know, in AZ the stuff has always been marketed with individual plastic wrap inside a large plastic wrapper. If it were paper, it might not be altogether OK, because after all yet another tree died for that paper and because after all Charmin’ demonstrates, loud and clear, that NO EXTRA WRAPPING IS NEEDED, but it sure would be better than plastic within plastic and so on to infinity.

    @ frugalscholar: Ditto about the save-you-from-yourself med packaging. When I get one of those packages open, I either transfer it to another bottle with a normal lid or I simply throw out the lid. Really safe for the kiddies, eh?

    And sure, no doubt at all that Kirkland and Borghese would like thieves to refrain from cherry-picking the blusher or the highlighter or the lip gloss. But given that ANY in-store application of a box-cutter to a package is likely to be sorta conspicuous, why not simply package all the items in a single bubble of impenetrable plastic, rather than make us hack through not one but TEN bubbles of nuisance packaging?

  5. Darling FM, I share your frustration, I really do. But is that _really_ what Arizonians call a wrench? Cuz here in upstate NY, we call ’em pliers. As in “I wrenched my back pulling the @#$& package apart with the pliers.” 😉

  6. I imagine Costco will stop selling stuff wrapped like that when Costco’s customers stop buying products wrapped like that and tell Costco why they aren’t buying those products. Telling the manufacturer why you aren’t buying their products is a good idea too. If they can’t sell them, Costco won’t buy them. Costco, and Walmart and every other retailer, has only the power that we give them. Excessive packaging is definitely one of my major pet peeves!

  7. @ Vickey: 😀 I called the tool a “wrench” because it has a sliding ratchet that allows you to widen or narrow its grip by two or three inches. In our part of the country, that fits the definition of a wrench, whereas pliers have only one setting–they can’t be adjusted for width.

    @ Simply Forties: Yup. I sent a link to this piece to Costco’s customer relations execs, with details on the site’s page rank and the several thousand people who have visited (something in excess of 16,000, to tell the truth) since the first of February. Interestingly, no response has been forthcoming.

  8. I buy the Kirkland toilet paper and never really thought about the individually wrapped rolls.

    I kind of liked it because we divide the rolls between 3 bathrooms and they don’t get dusty this way BUT paper would be so much better because I could recycle it easily. That’s something for us to think about.

    Also, you’re absolutely correct that Costco could use it clout so they’re not individually wrapped. They made a big deal out of demanding the larger can size for tuna!

  9. I have the same frustration on those plastic packaging they have now for almost anything. I still don’t get the rationale in using them. They may argue it discourages theft (like people opening packages in the store) but if a shoplifter is determined, he’ll just take the whole thing and open it at the comforts of his lair.

    They already have those small security stickers that set off alarms. Why not just enforce those? Doesn’t matter whether a customer just paid at the register, if the alarm goes off, the guard should double check. It may be a malfunction or the cashier did not check the item out properly or he/she forgot to check it out at all.

    Here’s a suggestion, why not use iron-clad chests for the products, at least we can re-use the container for storing other stuff.

    Anyway, I’ve gotten my own war wounds with these plastic things and I give my two thumbs down on them.

  10. Have you written to the mineral makeup company about their packaging? Maybe they don’t realize that what they’ve come up with to keep the product tamper proof won’t let customers actually open the packaging in order to use the product.

  11. I love this post! I have had many similar results with packaging, except they have been with my 6 year old son’s toys. I think it’s really messed up just how hard they make it to get into these toys. He has to save up his money for the toys he wants, as we never just buy them for him (except those he gets on holidays of course). So when he gets a toy, he is so excited! He is literally standing over (or under as it would be) my shoulder, as I am punching, pulling, and wrangling with this thick plastic. What is wrong with these stores? Is it so uncomprehensible to let a child easily free his toys from the packaging by themselves? Right now it’s like I am breaking these toys out of jail or I’m using the jaws of life to save this toy from it’s terrible trapped fate.

  12. Experienced the same nightmare hell with the packaging on the Crest 3D whitestrips from Costco! It took nearly 20 minutes to get through the outer cardboard & plastic using many of the same tools – IT WAS COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS! Then after finally getting through that, the box inside was wrapped in another layer of plastic! Sooo not necessary and frustrating beyond belief!

  13. Thank you for your post. I just emailed Costco about the difficulties opening such packaging. Today I actually cut myself in the process.
    Next time, before buying an item sold in this type of packaging, I will think twice. If I do decide to purchase the item I will pay for it and I will ask one of their employees to open it for me. If this help is not provided for me in the store I will return the item on the spot.

    • @ A: If you ask them, they will open it. Some Costco check-out clerks actually have a box-cutter at the cash register! I’ve also discovered that if you take a package to customer service at Target and ask nicely, they also have box-cutters and will open consumer-proof packages.

      You know, Costco has a “suggestions” box. It’s usually located near the door. If every one of us and all our friends asked, in writing, for the consumer-proof packages to go away and pointed out that Amazon can do this and so Costco could, too, we might have some effect…

Comments are closed.