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By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University

The twist tie has become as common in our daily life as the spring-loaded clothespins were to our grandmothers. Indeed, that tiny piece of wire has even become part of the U.S. trade talks with China. The so-called twist tie trade war over the undervalue of the yuan could affect over $450 billion of imports from China.

China is trying to undermine the U.S. twist tie business, mainly affecting Bedford Industries, Inc. of Worthington, Minnesota. China is selling identical twist ties that Bedford manufactures, but at half the price.

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It is interesting that we call something a twist tie. We could have used a piece of string. And if you know some fancy knot ties that easily untie as you use them, we could have had knot ties closing our plastic bags of bread. Or someone with a piece of electrical cord from an old broken lamp could have cut off a four-inch section and had a lamp cord tie for our bread. In fact, that may have been some of the inspiration behind this invention. And, yes, it seems that all twist ties are a combination of plastic or paper and wire.

Manufacturing Process for Twist Ties Consists of Wrapping a Paper or Plastic Covering over Steel Wire

The actual manufacturing process for twist ties consists of wrapping a paper or plastic covering around steel wire. That coating keeps the wire from rusting, so it can be used for many other applications.

The twist tie can often inform consumers about the shelf-life freshness of breads and rolls because some bakeries use a color code on their twist ties — blue for Monday, green for Tuesday, red for Wednesday, and so on.

Grocery stores also offer free, do-it-yourself twist tie dispensers to wrap fresh fruits and vegetables in disposable plastic bags. Visit a hardware store and you’ll see twist ties holding garden hoses and electric cords together on display racks.

But the business side of twist ties is not the end of the story. There is twist tie art, which seems to be a limitless pastime for creating colorful sculptures, bowls, bird nests, animals, necklaces and flowers.

Face Masks to Protect against COVID-19 Have Created a New Use for Twist Ties

The surgical face masks used as protection from the spread of COVID-19 has created a new use for twist ties. By inserting a flexible twist tie into the inside opening of a cloth face mask (used to hold a filter), the mask can more easily be adjusted to fit better around the nose.

Bedford Industries makes more than just twist ties. It makes the ElastiTag, Bib Tie, Flag Tie, Printed Tie, Closet Tag, Produce Ties, Snap-A-Tag, Push Tag and Clip Tag. Some of these tags can track the entire supply chain of products such as fresh lettuce or other vegetables from the moment they are picked to when they are scanned in the grocery store with a bar code for proper inventory management. The twist tie family is an inventory management tool, part of the business of logistics and supply chain management.

If China succeeds in selling its twist ties for half the price as the U.S.-made ones, what will happen to Bedford and other similar businesses?

Bedford president Jay Milbrandt has stated, “We have been doing this for 50 years and have a really efficient process. It didn’t seem right to us that China could make twist ties, ship it to the U.S. market, all for a price where [we] can’t even buy the basic raw materials.”

The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) is continuing discussions with China over economic issues that affect the U.S., among them the twist tie business.

Bedford opened in 1966 after its owner invented this thing called the twist tie. But if we have a shortage of twist ties, reach for those spring-loaded clothespins. They work just fine closing the plastic bread wrappers.

And continue to wear your face mask – with or without a twist tie – for safety against this 2020 pandemic.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Military University (AMU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.