Packaging protects our products from external influences and ensures that they reach the customer undamaged. Packaging must therefore remain intact across the entire product life cycle to guarantee safety. We are working to reduce the amount of material we use, as well as increasingly utilizing eco-friendly materials where possible. We have also put recycling programs in place to help our customers properly dispose of and recycle our products and packaging.
Our sustainable packaging strategy
We aim to deliver our products in packaging that is safe and easy for customers to handle, and as sustainable as possible. With more than 300,000 products in our Life Science portfolio – ranging from biochemicals to lab chemicals, from filter materials and systems to instruments – we face a variety of challenges when it comes to packaging. We strive to improve the sustainability of this packaging to help both us and our customers reduce the environmental impact. To achieve this, we have developed a sustainable packaging strategy for Life Science that is built on the three pillars of optimizing resources, using more sustainable materials and designing for circular economy. In 2018, goals and targets were defined in collaboration with internal stakeholders from Sourcing, Distribution and the Global Packaging Material group. In December 2018, we started implementing and internally communicating our sustainable packaging plan.
We have set four goals that build on these three pillars:
- Reduce amount of packaging
- Achieve zero deforestation
- Improve plastic sustainability
- Maximize recycling
Internal targets relating to these goals have been defined up to the year 2022 and we have identified initiatives that will be implemented in order to achieve them.
Design for Sustainability program
Our Design for Sustainability (DfS) program supports our Life Science business sector in creating products with reduced life cycle impacts. This process focuses on utilizing recyclable or reusable materials that can be easily recovered or separated. Through DfS, we are continuously working to reduce the ecological footprint of our products and make disposal as easy as possible for our customers.
Making packaging more sustainable
A great deal of our packaging is fiber derived from wood. We are constantly working to increase the proportion of corrugated cardboard boxes certified to the standards governing sustainable forestry, including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). As part of reaching our “zero deforestation” goal by ensuring that none of our fiber-based packaging materials contribute to deforestation, we are currently defining new procedures on how to track the percentage of wood- and fiber-based packaging materials that are certified by at least one of these standards, so that we can report this figure in the future.
Cellulose and air cushions replace polystyrene and foam
In the past, glass reagent bottles were secured using expanded polystyrene (EPS) molded foam to prevent them from breaking during transport. While EPS, also known as Styrofoam®, is an excellent cushioning material, it is manufactured from non-renewable petrochemicals and difficult to recycle. By contrast, molded pulp components can be easily recycled with other paper materials and compacted together for storage and transport. We employ a substitution program in which we replace EPS as far as possible with molded components made of cellulose and recycled paper pulp.
We are already using molded pulp inserts to pack some of our 4x4 liter, 4x2.5 liter and 6x1 liter bottles in shipping boxes, thereby replacing around two million EPS parts per year. We are currently conducting safety tests on new pulp designs for shipping other bottles of various sizes. Overall, we used approximately 669 metric tons of molded pulp packaging material in 2018.
We seek eco-friendly alternatives to ship our products safely, which is why we are also working with a specialist biotech company to develop a more sustainable bulk-packaging design to transport our Millistak+® Pod Disposable Depth Filter. A life cycle assessment showed that we achieved a 24% reduction in used corrugated cardboard, which translates to a 17% decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the life cycle of the packaging materials. Moreover, 70% less time is required at our customers in the processing of products and their packaging.
More cardboard instead of plastic
Whilst solvents are usually packed in plastic bottles, we use Titripac® because it offers a more eco-friendly alternative. The cardboard carton and plastic liner with an integrated withdrawal tap have made the packaging more recyclable while also cutting its weight by more than half. As a result, the greenhouse gas emissions arising across the entire product life cycle are 61% lower than for plastic bottles. Because the withdrawal tap protects the product against contamination, the contents can be used to the very last drop, thereby reducing chemical waste.
Reusing expanded polystyrene (EPS) boxes
Many of our Life Science products need to be kept cool during shipping and are therefore packed in special EPS boxes. To mitigate waste, we offer our customers in the United States the option of returning these boxes to us. If they are still fully functional, we reuse them. In 2018, this amounted to more than 14,000 boxes being reused at least once, making up around 5% of shipments leaving the three distribution centers where this type of packaging is being used.
Integrating stainless steel canisters in production
In China, Korea and Taiwan, our Performance Materials liquid crystal mixtures are delivered to display manufacturers in stainless steel canisters. Our customers utilize these standard canisters from our company directly on their production lines without decanting. The empty canisters are then sent back to us and cleaned. In 2018, 1,374 standardized canisters were in circulation within this closed system, which allows them to be reused over multiple years.
Steel instead of glass
Thanks to our bulk product delivery system, our solvents are delivered to Life Science customers based in the United States in special reusable steel containers such as the EMD ReCycler®. Our customers can return empty stainless-steel containers to us for refilling, enabling us to significantly reduce the consumption of primary packaging materials. In 2018, we filled more than 14,000 reusable containers.
In Europe, we also utilize reusable stainless-steel containers to deliver solvents that are required in bulk for preparative chromatography. Our customers send the empty containers back to us, where they are properly cleaned and then reused. Approximately 32,000 of these serialized stainless-steel containers are currently in circulation. The rate of return is at around 90%.
New sustainable membrane packaging for cut disc filters
With the objective of helping customers meet their own sustainability goals, we have redesigned membrane boxes for our cut disc filters. The membrane box packaging has been re-engineered for usability and reduced environmental impact. The newly redesigned membrane box packaging is manufactured using 22% less plastic and replaces polystyrene with polypropylene that has a 43% lower global warming potential than polystyrene. Other environmental impact enhancements include elimination of foam inserts and local sourcing of materials, resulting in less transportation and fewer emissions. This new design also reduces GHG emissions by 180 metric tons per year across the entire product life cycle. A life cycle assessment conducted on this new packaging design features the following sustainability improvements over the previous design:
- 22% reduction in weight of product packaging
- 33% reduction in GHG emissions
- 27% reduction in non-renewable energy
Recycling program updated
In cooperation with a waste-management company based in Massachusetts (United States), we employ a comprehensive recycling program for our Life Science customers in the United States. Product waste from their research labs and biopharmaceutical manufacturing operations is collected, sanitized and recycled into plastic lumber. This material can be used in many industries, such as construction, landscaping, transportation and marine construction. The program includes our Biopharma Recycling and Ech2o Collection Recycling Programs.
We are continuing to expand this program throughout the United States and are exploring options in other regions such as Europe and Asia. The program now serves twelve customers. Since launching the program, we have recycled 2,738 metric tons of waste generated from the use of our products, including 1,218 metric tons in 2018 alone.