Another Reason to Thank...
July 24, 2002     John Gephart

Put your hands in your pocket right now and wiggle them around. Hear that? That's the playful sound of jinggly change. So what do your plan to do with your little shiny money discs? Maybe you're planning on saving them to buy a magical make-believe car that can only be paid for with a vat of coins. Or perhaps you're the type of person that will put them in a jar for awhile, watching their numbers rise steadly for a full year before taking them to the bank to fund that basement PHP laboratory you've had your eye on.

If you're one of the above, wise up. Your coins don't want to go out like that. They want to be spent. They want to be exchanged for a refreshing beverage that may or may not contain NutriSweet. So into the vending machine goes our change and out pops a cold, metered dose of caffeine to dull the pain of our monkey-work job.

But how often do we stop and marvel at the container that holds our sweet elixcer of choice? Sure, everyone enjoys trying to pry the tab out of an empty can and the occasional finger lacerations that result, but what about the technology behind it all?

To answer this, I called my local soda bottling plant and asked if they would answer a few questions. The guy on the other end took great care to thoughtfully provide insight to the production process, telling me all about how mined aluminum eventually results in soda cans. There was some stuff in the middle, but I was distracted by a repeat of Iron Chef where they were doing the Eel Challenge. They were chopping the heads off of live eels and making biscuits out of them and everything. Then this actress lady was like "I've never had eel skin this tender." It was crazy.

So as we've learned, lots of work goes into making the cans. That's a good thing too, if you consider the alternatives.

First off, imagine that we had no cans at all. You'd have to purchase handfuls of Sprite at a time, and then probably pay some guy named Cooter to rinse and dry your hands afterwards so you didn't get syrup all over the magazines you're reading at work instead of getting anything accomplished.

Secondly, you could just buy a cup. But if you haven't seen the prices on cups these days, you don't know about how the current shortage in Asia has resulted in jacked-up cup prices worldwide. You have to put down maybe a grand just for a decent Dixie cup right now, and let's not even discuss the Styrafoam market. So that means you have get like a dozen co-workers together to go in on a cup and everybody has to take turns sharing it. Then someone has to make up a chart for who gets to use the cup at what time, and no one wants it after Steve who coughs a lot, etc, etc.

Lastly, ponder what might happen if can technology hadn't progressed as far as it did. Soda cans are crazy thin, like a piece of paper or something. What if they weren't thin at all, and had to be made with really thick walls instead? Then they'd weigh a lot more and probably break all the vending machines as they tumbled out into that little tray. And you can forget about recycling, since cans would weigh so much that no one would bother.

Except for the homeless, of course. They love to pick up cans for money and blow it all on stuff like alcohol, posterboard, and cockfights. Continually picking up heavy objects builds muscle, so sooner or later we'd be faced with a nation of super-strong homeless people. They wouldn't even have to ask for money, they would just punch you in the neck and take it. And you'd have to just lie there on the ground, bleeding quietly, because if you protested they would kick you in the ribs and genitals.

I think we all owe a great big thank-you to our local bottling plant. For they are the only things keeping us from living our lives in constant fear of sticky hands and being shaken down by the gangs of the super-homeless. In that order.

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