Voices The incredible shrinking ... everything

Voices The incredible shrinking ... everything

By Carol Mizrahi

Have you noticed that toilet paper rolls now wobble back and forth on the cylinder? That's because the width — which used to be 4.5 inches — is now 4.1.

Not only has the width of the rolls shrunk, but so has the length of each sheet. Originally, it was 4.5. Then 4.1. And now? 3.7.

That's why we can't call them squares anymore. They're not!

The famous "Big Roll" may still have 1,000 sheets, but the width and length of those sheets have shrunk 15 percent to 20 percent from just a few years ago. Bottom line? It takes more paper to get the same job done.

(And while I'm on the subject of toilet paper, I'd like to add my 2 cents to the continuing debate over toilet paper direction. There is a right way and a wrong way, and the right way is over the TOP for two reasons: 1) You can more easily see the perforation line between sheets for tearing; and 2) inside receptacles aren't cleaned frequently enough; therefore, the paper could collect dust, etc. on its way to you!)

Toilet paper is only one of hundreds of products to have undergone shrinkage.

To name just a few: cereal (15 percent shrinkage), canned goods (from 16 ounces down to 14 or 15), bags of sugar (from 6 to 5 pounds), canned juices (8 percent shrinkage), crackers (15 percent), orange juice cartons (from 64 to 58 ounces), Heinz catsup (11 percent shrinkage), Chicken of the Sea Tuna (17 percent), a box of baby wipes ( to 72 wipes from 80).

Most of us don't notice these changes because food manufacturers have cleverly hidden them. One of the strategies is to maintain the original can or bag size, fill it with less product and make up the difference with (expensive) air — called "slack-fill" in the trade.

The 33.9-ounce coffee can now contains 27.8 ounces of coffee. The filler is air. Potato chips and pretzels are also big on air, low on content. Only a few years ago, a 16 oz. bag of potato chips was three quarters chips and one quarter air. Then it was half and half. Today, it's closer to one quarter chips and three quarters air.

In the name of honest packaging, manufacturers should be required to include "air" as an ingredient; after all, we're paying for it.

Then there's the disingenuous "Family Size" label plastered on some food bags. A qualifier should follow: "Family = 2 people, 1 gone fishing."

"The Bottom Whine:" More and more consumers are paying for less and less.

Another way some manufacturers have camouflaged their shrinkage is by redesigning packages to "look the same" but actually hold less. What we're told, however, is that packaging changes have been made for the "public good." Containers are now either "environmentally friendly" or easier to carry or pour from.

A good example of such a repackaging miracle is the Ivory liquid detergent bottle.

If you think the older and newer bottles hold the same amount of liquid, think again. It's an optical illusion. Because the redesigned container is narrowed at the waist, it can only hold 24 ounces of liquid, 6 ounces less than the original.

The Haagen-Dazs ice cream container is another example of tricky packaging. The old and new containers look the same because the lids are the same size, but the new carton tapers in the middle, shrinking its maximum content by 2 ounces (12.5 percent).

Houdini packaging affects more than our pocketbooks. It impacts our environment. The EPA says that about 13 tons of plastic packaging ends up annually at municipal landfills. If products were packaged in true-to-size containers, as much as 3 tons of environmental waste could be eliminated annually.

In all fairness to the food industry, basic commodities such as food, packaging materials, and transportation costs have risen, and to remain profitable companies have had to either decrease the amount of the product sold in a unit or raise prices. The problem is that too many have done both: shrinking at one end and expanding at the other!

Shrinkage isn't unique to the food industry. It happens everywhere. Take the garment industry, where the amount of fabric going into an item has shrunk. It used to be when a dress or blouse got tight on you, you talked about "letting the seams out." When was the last time you heard anyone say that?

In fact, I bet those under 30 have never heard that expression, which is because there's nothing to "let out" any more; in fact, if you sneeze in your new blouse, you could rip open the skimpy seams and toss it onto the rag pile.

To save printing costs, type size has also shrunk. I used to be able to read the phonebook with my naked eye. Same for RX directions. Now I need a magnifying glass (and, no, it's not my eyesight!).

So, what's next? Larger bagel holes? Gummy bears minus their arms and legs? Ten-gallon hats down to nine? Bigger holes in the Swiss cheese?

What's a person to do? Not much, I guess, except WHINE WHINE WHINE.

Carol Mizrahi is the author of the blog "The Bottom Whine" (http://www.thebottomwhine.blogspot.com) and "Coming of Age ... AGAIN," a novel. She lives in Champaign.

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bmtennill wrote on September 09, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I completely agree!! So frustrating! thanks for your clever writing.