Form (Should) Follow Function

Nearly everything these days is made in China, which is not necessarily a bad thing. What may be a bad thing is the compulsive way the Chinese factories seem to produce Chinese-designed bargain knock-offs of just about everything – sometimes, it seems, without a complete grasp of just how it is you’re supposed to use the item in question. (One of my favorite Chinese drop-shipping sites, DealExtreme, has started carrying “personal massagers”, as I discovered when browsing their “new arrivals”. One of these “massagers” bears a striking resemblance to a surprised porcupine, i.e. it’s covered in a gajillion quite long, hard plastic spikes, sticking out at acute angles. Either there was a great untapped market for, um, custom-designed tools to exfoliate the inside of your yoohoo, or the people who developed this painful-looking thing don’t quite grasp how phallic “personal massagers” are normally used.)

Anyway, I really like pickles. So do my roommates.

What does this have to do with China? Well, there’s a family at the local farmer’s market who sell extremely tasty homemade pickles…

…in some ridiculously flimsy plastic deli containers – the kind you get, you know, coleslaw in. There is no way they’d survive the bike ride back home from the farmer’s market when filled with pickles and brine. So we decided to buy a couple of wide-mouth plastic water bottles to transport pickles in. Brilliant, right?

We saved about four bucks a bottle at Target by buying a couple of different off-brand bottles, rather than the pricier Nalgene ones.

Three bottles. Three different brands. None of them are water-tight. Not even close.

Now, for a lot of people, this might not be a big deal; fill it with water and a little bit leaks out, who cares? It’s just water. When you fill it with 24 ounces of garlic dill pickles and brine, and the brine dribbles out, that’s a different story entirely.

It’s a water bottle. Shouldn’t it sort of be, you know, water-tight?

Apparently not in the plastic-molding regions of China. Between all my roommates, and a couple coworkers, I’ve been able to test eleven water bottles – Nalgene and fake Nalgenes, plus a couple of plastic bike water bottles and some stainless steel or aluminum ones. The only completely water-tight ones are the actual Nalgenes, and two of the metal ones (an aluminum Primus one and a stainless one from SubZero). All four of the Nalgene knockoffs, both the bike water bottles, and the sturdiest of the stainless steel ones… leak.

Our minds boggle, slightly.

The imitation Nalgenes, as near as I can tell, all leak for the same reason – because the caps and the lips of the bottles aren’t designed to mate particularly well. On an actual Nalgene bottle, the top of the lip is flat, and snugs down, compression-fitting style, into a tapered recess in the cap, actually creating two seals – one each at the inner and outer edges of the lip. Kind of clever, really. On the various fake Nalgenes, the edges of the lips taper somewhat, roughly, and the flat recess in the cap that the lip seats into is wider than the bottle wall.

Not a huge difference. But enough to make the Nalgenes water-tight, and the knockoffs leak like sieves.

It’s not rocket science; people have been making water-tight containers for thousands of years. Maybe in China they use these things for some other purpose – storing loose change, or glass marbles, or something.

It’s just kind of absurd. And aggravating.

(By the way, as near as I can tell, once you put pickle brine in a polycarbonate bottle, name-brand or otherwise, apparently it’s going to smell like pickles forever.)

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on August 30th, 2010| No Comments »

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