*Substitute for weird grey flaky stuff at no extra charge!
Hi, everyone. Apologies for my absurdly long absence from the blog–I’ve been extremely busy hammering out an enormous project and writing grant applications to the Canadian government for the past few months.
Today’s post is going to be a short one, but it’s a problem that’s been vexing me for the entire time I’ve been at grad school. As the person at my lab who is charge of ordering reagents, and partially responsible for the inventory and cataloging of them, I get to see first-hand how much packaging goes into a Sigma order. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the policies they use for determining “adequate packaging” are absurd to the point of being humourless (figures 1 & 2).
Figures 1 & 2. This is a 25g bottle of 1-decyne that we received today from Sigma, shown for scale with the size of the box and the amount of styrofoam used to ship it. This is far from the worst case of overpackaging I have seen.
Now, I understand several things:
- These are indeed hazardous chemicals (sometimes)
- A breakage or leak in transit would be a “non-trivial” (cf. dangerous and embarrassing) problem
- The company is responsible for making sure that I receive the items intact and in perfect condition
- There are numerous regulations regarding the transport and handling of these materials, both domestically and across international borders
HOWEVER. When receiving items from Strem or Alfa, the packaging isn’t nearly as excessive (that is, they usually ship multiple items individually wrapped in a single box, unlike Sigma, who generally place a single item in a single box for an entire order, unless there are a series of similar items, such as various 500 mg bottles of pybox ligands). Both Alfa and Strem ship from the U.S., so I know that it isn’t simply a border issue, and indeed, when things get shipped to us by Sigma from Oakville, Ontario, the reagents are still swaddled in enough layers of plastic pillows, styrofoam, grey fabric, or that weird flaky stuff to survive getting thrown out of an airplane. I’ve received orders where individual 1g bottles of reagents are packed in their own boxes, resulting in an entire garbage can full of packing junk after ordering only 5-10 g total of actual materials.
It may be a funny coincidence that I work in a “green chemistry” oriented laboratory, but all comedic weepiness aside, this packaging offends me every time I make an order. The amount of styrofoam alone that goes into the garbage here every week could probably fill a hot tub, and that stuff never goes away. I’ve found an aftermarket use for the grey fabric, and the boxes can be recycled easily, but the rest of it just goes straight to a dump.
So, I pose these questions to fellow chemists and other scientists in the States:
Does Sigma-Aldrich use the same asinine packaging policies when shipping domestically?
Does it enrage you, having to swim through a sea of styrofoam just to find your starting material?
Do you fantasize about sending back the box-o-styrofoam with a note encouraging them to re-use it?
Do you fantasize about collecting a year’s worth of Sigma-foam and filling your swimming pool with it?
What is that weird greyish flaky stuff?