I burned out some diode lasers a while back, and needed to buy replacements. Here’s one of the replacements on top of the tube containing the other, with a US quarter for scale:


Here they are, with the box and packing material used to ship them to me:


I realize that this is probably due to somebody at the laser company deciding to save money by standardizing on a single size of shipping container. Still, this seems just a tiny bit excessive…


  1. #1 tceisele
    December 3, 2007

    This is along the lines of the time I bought a foam rubber neck-supporting pillow through the mail, and they packed it in a box with padding! What were they trying to do, keep it from getting broken?

  2. #2 Michael
    December 3, 2007

    I worked briefly as a shipping clerk and my experience says that the purchasing department once again screwed up on ordering the little boxes and you got the best choice from a meager selection.

  3. #3 decrepitoldfool
    December 3, 2007

    And don’t even get me started on what comes with new computers! We have over 500 computers in our building. Every one comes in a huge non-reusable box with styrofoam packaging, “manuals” (that contain no useful information), usually four different CD’s in each box, a power cord (We throw out about 70 pounds of power cords a year). Dell is all about supply-chain management, so couldn’t they have a checkbox for “Just send me ONE of each CD instead of 85 of each one…” or “Check here if you already have more power cords than you’ll ever use”

    Yeah, I’ve gotten a pillow online that came with padding too. And a new cell-phone battery came in a huge box with padding. A little padded envelope would have been fine.

  4. #4 Uncle Al
    December 3, 2007

    Wooden crate sealed with serrated nails, filled with vermiculate, holding a can. Can opens with can opener, filled with vermiculite, to expose a silvered plastic chem bag. Bag filled with vermiculite opens to expose plastic bag with a twist tie holding a small bottle of powdered pH buffer for cell culture, with a cap seal.

    1) If naked mammalian cells grow in it, how hazardous can it be?
    2) Have you ever opened a wooden crate sealed with serrated nails?

  5. #5 Leukocyte
    December 3, 2007

    Jars of phenol come shipped to our lab in a large-ish cardboard box filled with absorbent material with a plastic bag sealed with a twist and tape inside. Inside the bag is a metal can, sealed shut with tape, and inside the can is a corrugated cardboard cylinder. Finally, after cutting away the cardboard, the glass jar that actually holds the phenol becomes visible. Every time I open one of these I end up shaking my head in wonder.

  6. #6 Michael Pereckas
    December 3, 2007

    Oh, I have you beat. Big box full of packing paper to send a totally redundant sheet of paper: Big Empty Box

  7. #7 Carl Brannen
    December 3, 2007

    After my buddy and I lost our decent paying jobs in high tech, we started buying things at auctions and selling them (at first with eBay). As time went on, we got into bigger and bigger things. This ended up as a sort of education in shipping.

    If the company wasn’t so big, and the employees cared about waste, they could have saved money by shipping you the replacement part even without a box of the right size. First, the IC tubes can be cut with sharp scissors to make them shorter. Then you take a flat piece of cardboard, cut it appropriately, and bend it around the object you wish to ship. The result is a well packaged thing that will make it very nicely through the US post office. A pair of chips like that should fit nicely in a letter sized box maybe 1/2″ thick that gets the minimum US post office rates.

    UPS tends to damage things in shipping, and they need more padding. For custom padding, you can get surplus insulating foam and make a box to hold that around your object.

    Of course flat cardboard is surplus junk and is available free anywhere you look. In Seattle, we would wait until several days of dry weather, and then raid the dumpsters at a few choice locations. The best cardboard is the double thick stuff used to ship exercise equipment.

    Things that go on a palett (so they can be picked up by forklift) are much more kindly treated by the shipping industry and doesn’t need as much padding. You just need to make sure that the object stays within its boundaries. And you can buy surplus wood to nail those together cheaply.

  8. #8 milkshake
    December 3, 2007

    when you buy chemicals the carrier companies have rules (based on transportation regulations) how things have to be packaged. One does not want to poison the truck driver or cause an emergency landing if a bottle cracks and spills.

    The fun starts when a fairly innocuous stuff gets arbitrarily put into one or more categories and all the mandated bull is applied. Some time ago I bought 10 grams of silver nitrate – it is a heavy stuff so the bottle was very small. It is also a pretty innocuous material – it used to be sold over the counter as a wart remover. Silver salts are still used to sanitize wells with drinkig water. Unfortunately now it got into the heavy metal/poison/oxidizer/light-sensitive/enviro hazzard categories. So few days later I got this humongous box, filled with styrofoam peanuts, with an fire-proof foil covered smaller box filled with vermiculite with a can filled with some more crap that contained an aluminum foil fire-resistant pouch filled with yet more crap and in the middle of it was my bottle, size of a thumb. The material cost is about $25 and I paid another $45 on the shiping and packaging fees.

    The companies are getting totally alibistic about hazzard warnings – until recently a pure washed river sand from Fisher carried the warning: “Hazzard! This product contains silicon oxide, a material recognized by the state of California to cause cancer”. Acetylosalicylic acid (Aspirin) carries toxic warnings (tarhet organ: thyroid) and benzaldehyde, the ubiquitousd cherry/almond flavoring substance is categorized as highly toxic (target organ: nerves)

  9. #9 Mitch P.
    December 3, 2007

    A very old example from an early employee of Netscape:

    To ship a license key (a 16 digit hex number) they sent a 14x9x4 inch box–filled with styrofoam peanuts protecting an envelope containing a single sheet saying that they number he needed was printed on the outside of the envelope.

    Nowadays that kind of stuff is almost always emailed, but it probably took a decade longer than it should have.

  10. #10 JT
    December 3, 2007

    The way shipping companies work, there is a no-man’s land between a padded envelope and a box about that size. If it doesn’t fit in with the envelopes, it’s at risk for being lost.

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