into lower expenses, Leong said.

"Because we don't have to unpack the PC boxes or stack them, we're saving about two hours per shipment," he said. "If the average analyst makes $30 an hour, that adds up."

The crate also solved a delivery problem. Because the computers were originally shipped on pallets that were too wide to fit down their hallways, Seattle City Light employees unloaded PCs from the pallets onto flatbed carts for delivery to users. The new crate is designed to easily move from truck to loading dock, into elevators and through doorways. New computers can now be delivered to users' desks directly from the crate. The crate also provides a cost-effective way to remove old equipment and eliminates the storage problem.

"We take the crate directly to the users desk, load up the old PC, lock the crate back up, call the shipping company, and ship it back to Gateway for recycling," said Leong.

Not Alone

Seattle is not the only government reducing PC packaging.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) has also made significant efforts to cut waste. It recently ordered more than 500 new DFI 233 MHz computer systems, requesting that the vendor wrap each system in plastic and pack as many computers to a box as possible. Since they were sturdy systems with sheet metal cases, the vendor did so without using any Styrofoam. The computers were delivered in 25 large cardboard boxes on pallets, significantly reducing the amount of packaging materials. After the systems were unpacked, the shipping company hauled away the pallets and the cardboard boxes were recycled.

"We are naturally concerned with recycling waste," said Lanny Clavecilla, spokesman for CIWMB. "We want to make sure we emulate the efforts we're pushing for."

Clavecilla agrees the best solution is not to produce the waste in the first place. "There has to be a sustainable market for waste if you are going to rely on recycling," he said. "Fortunately we've been getting a lot of cooperation from vendors."

When CIWMB decided to upgrade the processors in its Dell desktop PCs, it again managed to reduce the associated packaging waste. The new processors would normally have resulted in delivery of 500 separate boxes and miscellaneous packaging.

Instead, CIWMB's Information Management Branch procurement staff convinced the vendor to bulk package the processor chips in five boxes, each of which included five chip trays with 20 chips per tray. The total amount of packaging materials and storage space requirements was reduced by approximately 95 percent.

Back in Seattle, City Light is continuing to test the reusable crate. Once they've tested it thoroughly, they plan to spread the word to other city departments. Leong believes it won't be long until most of the city will be using crates as well.

"It won't make a huge difference if they're only ordering a few PCs," he said. "But we ordered 600 PCs in our department alone last year. We plan to use the crate for all our new PCs next year. That's a lot of Styrofoam that won't be making it to the landfill."

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer