Flat ties and tiedowns


I am discussing two kinds of ties here. One is usually called a nylon tie. The other is a packing strap. The first is made of nylon (big surprise) and the second is made of high density polyethylene. Each one has immensely high tensile strength. Each is flat, not round like rope, and is useful in cases where the flat profile may cause less damage to or crushing of the thing being tied.

NYLON TIES – These are typically short, such as a few inches to a foot and are used to hold slippery things together, such as wires in a harness in an electronic device. They come in colors for coding. They are closed by threading the free end, the tongue, into a small box on the other end. The box has a ratchet pawl inside it which catches on the directed grooves built into the length of the tie so it can go into the box but will not back out again, thus providing a tight, fairly permanent tie. There is a variety that is sold with a button on the pawl so that you can press it away from the grooves, thus freeing up the long tongue to reverse back out of the box, allowing the unit to be reused. This kind is quite rare and almost never encountered.

When they are used in a tight environment, they are often cut off short, are small and cannot be reused so I have no more to say about them.

The larger ones are typically regarded as equally unreusable as the small ones but this is a mistake. When the width of the tie is about a quarter inch or larger, the pawl in the box can also be fairly large and it is fairly easy to reach into the box with a pen knife or a small screwdriver and hold the pawl down while the tongue is backed out to be used again. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a removal tool for doing exactly this or if a removal button was built into the box?

I hardly need address the mentality of waste that decrees that a valuable, engineered plastic like nylon be used once and discarded just because a small piece of it does not cost much. The thousands and millions that are discarded cost a great deal. As I describe over and over, the cost is the investment, the building of factories and equipment, the refining of plastic monomers, the support of employees etc. that went into producing these bits of nylon. Sometimes the whole purpose of these ties is to prevent them from being opened and reclosed because of the personal or proprietary nature of what they are holding, such as keys, but often the reusable kind would serve just as well. However, by forcing discard, the manufacturers undoubtedly think they being quite clever and helping their bottom line. For comparison, imagine if Velcro ties were able to be used only once. They could be made that way, by incorporating hooks that broke the first time the Velcro was pulled apart, but fortunately they have come to inhabit the commercial niche for ties that can be closed and opened repeatedly.

PLASTIC STRAPPING – These incredibly strong straps are fed from a long reel and used primarily to hold large packages together. They often hold packaging on pallets. Unlike the nylon ties, they do not have their own fastening but instead are fed through steel clips which can be crimped, holding the two ends of a strap together permanently. Through long use now, it is universally assumed that they will be cut off, yanked into an unwanted ball and be thrown into a nearby dumpster or garbage can. But why is this so?

What would it take for example to make a simple steel fastener with two screws on it that would be almost as flat as existing fasteners but could be opened up again by simply unscrewing the fastener for reuse? We do something similar with the straps on backpacks and with the belt that holds up our pants.

Even in the present wasteful context, why is the strap typically cut with such utter disregard for the unique possibilities for making use  of such a strong, flat tie. Specifically, have you ever heard any recommendation to cut the strap right next to the crimped steel fastener so as to preserve as much length of strap as possible, even if the steel fastener is cut off and discarded or reused as steel? I’m quite sure the answer is “no” in every case. Part of the reason is obvious. Since reuse is out of the question, there is no context of reuse that would facilitate any individual to think in those terms.  A long strap, let’s say 6 or 10 feet long, could lose only one foot by being cut and could then be used for a  smaller package. However, there is a context of discard which dictates that it is always best to simply unroll new strap from the long reel every time and discard the shorter but perfectly usable short, recovered strap. So what would a mentality of reuse consist of? It isn’t hard to imagine. It would be enough if that screw down fastener mentioned above were to be standard. Then two short straps could be joined end to end with one of those and used in an even longer application.

Sometimes a thermal welding/splicing machine is used to connect or splice the plastic straps. This could also be used as a simple way to lengthen straps in a dedicated packaging department. In this wasteful society, that kind of thinking is never encountered. The welcoming, embracing garbage can eliminates all need for imagination.

The potential for designing and selling a reusable fastener is obvious. At its best, Zero Waste theory normally points to new businesses based on conservation principles.

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