Packaging protects our products from external influences and helps to ensure that they reach the customer undamaged. We are working to reduce the amount of material we use while also employing more eco-friendly materials. Furthermore, we help our customers take a more sustainable approach to recycling or disposing of 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. We also work to make it 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 its environmental impact. In 2019, we therefore launched SMASH Packaging, a sustainable packaging strategy for Life Science. The strategy is built on three pillars: optimizing resources, using more sustainable materials and designing for a circular economy. We have set four goals that support these pillars.
- Shrink: reduce amount of packaging
- Secure: achieve zero deforestation
- Switch: improve plastic sustainability
- Save: maximize recycling
Based on these goals, we have defined targets for the years up to 2022. They address the development of new product packaging and the improvement of existing product and distribution packaging.
New product packaging is where we can achieve the greatest impact. Our approach consists of implementing new standards and guidelines that development teams can apply to create more sustainable packaging. Going forward, we will assess the sustainability characteristics of new product packaging based on our Design for Sustainability scorecard, which was redesigned in 2020.
Our specialty gas and thin films businesses in Performance Materials focus on product packaging that performs well in terms of transportation and handling safety. When introducing new packaging, we use a process that includes a safety review, evaluating package specifications and sizes, shipment frequency, route, carriers, emergency response capabilities, and elements of safety in the supply chain. All product containers undergo a review for chemical compatibility, purity, leak-tightness, and regulatory compliance. The presence of specific hazards and specific container sizes can necessitate a more detailed risk assessment.
Making product packaging more sustainable: Life Science
Within the scope of our SMASH Packaging sustainable packaging strategy, we are pursuing a number of projects for the Life Science business sector:
How product design affects packaging: ZooMAb®
Most traditional antibody products need to be shipped at temperatures between 2°C and 8°C, using specific insulated shipping containers with wet ice bricks. This results in high packaging material consumption and transport emissions. Our ZooMAb® antibodies were developed as a freeze-dried product, giving them improved ambient shipping capabilities and storage stability. This makes it possible to eliminate the use of polystyrene coolers and ice bricks, resulting in significant packaging weight reductions for product shipments. Based on current projections, this will allow us to avoid the emission of 75 metric tons of CO2eq per year by 2025.
Shrink: How we minimize the amount of packaging
We seek eco-friendly alternatives to ship our products safely, which is why we partnered with a biotech company and jointly developed a more sustainable bulk packaging design for the transport of our Millistak+® Pod Disposable Depth Filters. A life cycle assessment showed that we achieved a 24% reduction in the corrugated cardboard used, which translates to a 17% decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout the life cycle of the packaging materials. In 2020, we saved around 12 metric tons of corrugated cardboard. Moreover, our customers require 70% less time to open and then dispose of the packaging.
Our distribution teams in Germany and India continue to benefit from optimization projects that we conducted in 2019. At our distribution center in Darmstadt (Germany), we reduced the grammage of kraft paper used as packing material from 100g/m2 to 80g/m2. This initiative allows us to save 14 metric tons of paper annually while maintaining the same level of performance in protecting our products.
Secure: How we are moving towards zero deforestation
A large proportion of our packaging consists of fiber derived from wood. As part of our SMASH Packaging strategy, we have set a goal that none of our wood or fiber-based packaging materials contribute to deforestation.
We assess the practices of our suppliers and the characteristics of our packaging annually in order to measure our progress towards our zero deforestation ambitions. This also enables us to identify opportunities to increase the volume of recycled material and the percentage of packaging we use with sustainable forestry certifications, which are awarded in line with sustainability standards developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
In 2020, we collected information from our strategic suppliers who represent 85% of our fiber-based packaging materials spending. Overall, by volume, around 80% of corrugated packaging supplied by these companies is certified by at least one of the three sustainable forestry standards or are made of recycled material. We have also initiated several projects to obtain sustainable forestry certification for a further 1,000 metric tons of our corrugated and paperboard packaging.
Switch: How we substitute plastics
In the past, we used insulated containers made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) for the shipment of our chemicals in glass bottles and our temperature-controlled products. While EPS offers good insulation and cushioning properties, it is a petroleum-based material that takes hundreds of years to decompose As the options for recycling EPS are limited, it is generally incinerated or landfilled. Our goal is to reduce our use of EPS by 20% by 2022.
We are replacing EPS wherever possible with molded components made of cellulose and recycled paper pulp. Our molded pulp components can be easily recycled with other paper materials and compacted together for storage and transport. We use molded pulp inserts to pack a variety of liter bottle configurations in shipping boxes, thereby replacing around three million EPS parts per year. We are currently conducting safety tests on new pulp designs for shipping other bottles of various sizes.
In 2020, we began implementing an alternative cooler at one of our distribution centers in the United States. This cooler is made from renewable resources and is certified as recyclable with corrugated materials. We use it to ship products with wet ice at temperatures of 2°C to 8°C. We plan to progressively deploy these new coolers in our key North American distribution centers.
Aqueous solutions are usually supplied in plastic bottles. We use Titripac® because it offers an eco-friendlier alternative. The cardboard carton and plastic liner with an integrated withdrawal tap have made the packaging lighter and more recyclable. Since the withdrawal tap protects the product against contamination, contents can be used to the very last drop. This helps reduce chemical waste. In 2020, our products sold in Titripac® 10L packaging configuration allowed to avoid 16 tons of non-renewable packaging materials, resulting in a reduction of 75 tons CO2eq emissions across the life cycle of the packaging compared to 1L plastic bottles.
Save: How we maximize recycling of packaging
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 2020, this amounted to approximately 8,000 boxes that were reused at least once, making it possible to save 1.8 metric tons of EPS.
Expanding product recycling
In cooperation with a waste management company based in Massachusetts (USA), we offer a comprehensive recycling program to our Life Science customers in the United States. Product waste from research labs and biopharmaceutical manufacturing operations is collected, sanitized and recycled into plastic lumber. This material can be used in many industries, such as landscaping, transportation and marine construction.
We continue to expand this program throughout the United States while exploring new options and recycling technologies in other regions such as Europe and Asia. It now serves 14 major biopharma manufacturing customers. Our goal was to recycle 5,000 metric tons of single use plastic through the program by 2020. Since launching the program in 2015, we have recycled more than 5,200 metric tons, exceeding our goal and avoiding the emission of approximately 3,385 metric tons of CO2eq.
Making product packaging more sustainable: Performance Materials
Our Performance Materials business sector uses a variety of packaging types, each tailored to the specific needs of the individual business fields and with its own unique sustainability characteristics.
Packaging for our specialty gas and thin films products is designed to be reused. Reusable packaging types include various sizes of cylinders and tube trailers for bulk specialty gases, along with smaller stainless steel and quartz containers for thin films. Once our customers have used the product within the container, the spent containers are returned to our production facility for cleaning, refurbishment and refilling. This cycle greatly reduces the number of containers to be disposed of. It diminishes the demand for construction of new containers and the subsequent resource needs, thus moving us closer to a circular economy.
For large quantities of products in our planarization business, we use totes for packaging. Totes are typically constructed of high-density polyethylene. One of our main tote suppliers has a recycling program in place that our customers can also use. Each tote from this supplier has a return ticket attached to it, and the supplier picks up the used tote so that its parts may be reused or recycled.