Packaging protects our products from external influences and helps to ensure that they reach the customer undamaged. Packaging must remain intact across the entire product life cycle. We are working to reduce the amount of material we use as well as to increasingly utilize eco-friendly materials. We also help our customers to take a more sustainable approach to disposing or recycling 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 try to make it as sustainable as possible. With more than 300,000 products in our Life Science portfolio – ranging from biochemicals to lab chemicals and 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 officially 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
We have also defined targets for the years up to 2022 relating to these goals. The targets address the development of new product packaging and the improvement of existing product and distribution packaging.
New product packaging is where we can make the biggest impact. Our approach consists of implementing new standards and guidelines development teams can apply to create more sustainable packaging. In the future, we will assess the sustainability characteristics of new product packaging based on our Design for Sustainability scorecard that is being redesigned.
Making packaging more sustainable
A large proportion of our packaging consists of fiber derived from wood. We work continuously to increase the amount of recycled material and 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). We want to reach our zero deforestation goal by ensuring that none of our wood and fiber-based packaging materials contribute to deforestation. In this connection, we conducted a survey in 2019 to better understand the practices of our suppliers and the characteristics of our packaging and to identify opportunities for improvement. We collected information from our strategic direct suppliers who represent 80% of our fiber-based packaging materials spending. Overall, by volume, 75% 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.
Cellulose as an alternative to polystyrene foam
In the past, we used expanded polystyrene (EPS) molded foam to secure glass reagent bottles and 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 are replacing EPS wherever possible with molded components made of cellulose and recycled paper pulp.
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. Overall, we used approximately 1,000 metric tons of molded pulp packaging material in 2019.
More sustainable bulk packaging solution
We seek eco-friendly alternatives to ship our products safely, which is why we are partnering with a biotech company to jointly develop 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 of corrugated cardboard used, which translates to a 17% decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions throughout the life cycle of the packaging materials. This translated to a total of around 4 tons of corrugated cardboard that was saved in 2019. Moreover, our customers require 70% less time to process our products and their packaging.
More cardboard instead of plastic
Solvents are usually supplied 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 and reduced its weight by more than 50%. As a result, the greenhouse gas emissions arising across the entire product life cycle are 61% lower compared to plastic bottles. Since the withdrawal tap protects the product against contamination, contents can be used to the very last drop. This helps reduce chemical waste.
Reusing 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 2019, this amounted to more than 11,500 boxes that were reused at least once, representing around 4% of the shipments leaving the three distribution centers where this type of packaging is being used.
Sustainable membrane packaging for cut disc filters
In 2019, we launched a redesigned membrane box packaging. All customers who order cut disc filters now receive their order in the new packaging design.
The new membrane box packaging is manufactured using 22% less plastic than the previous design. Moreover, it replaces polystyrene with polypropylene that has a 43% lower global warming potential in its production phase than polystyrene. Other environmental impact enhancements include the elimination of foam inserts and local sourcing of materials, resulting in less transportation and fewer emissions. This new design also reduces GHG emissions by 200 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.
Introducing recyclable plant-based coolers
In the past, we used insulated containers made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) for the shipment of 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. It can also cause environmental pollution, notably when it enters the marine environment. We have set ourselves the target to reduce the use of EPS by 20% by 2022. This target is part of our SMASH Packaging strategy.
In 2019, we investigated several technical solutions in order to find an alternative cooler that would meet our standards for effective cold chain transportation with a lower environmental footprint than an EPS cooler.
In early 2020, we started implementing this new cooler at one of our distribution centers in the United States. We use it for our products that are shipped with dry ice at a temperature of 2°C to 8°C. We plan to progressively deploy these new coolers in our main distribution centers in North America.
Reducing the amount of packing material used in distribution
Packing or padding material is used to safely store and transport products to our customers. We want to increase its sustainability characteristics as part of our SMASH Packaging initiative. In 2019, our distribution teams in Germany and India conducted projects to optimize the use of packing materials for the shipment of our products.
In our distribution center located 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 tons of paper annually, while maintaining the same level of performance in protecting our products.
In our Jigani (India) distribution center, we replaced plastic air pillows with shredded corrugated cardboard for packing. We also implemented a corrugated box shredder. Thanks to this machine, we are able to reuse the inbound corrugated packaging waste as shredded corrugate for packing, avoiding the additional purchase of packing material.
Our recycling program
In cooperation with a waste management company based in Massachusetts (USA), 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 panels. 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 continue to expand this program throughout the United States and are exploring options in other regions such as Europe and Asia. The program now serves 12 major biopharma manufacturing customers. Since launching the program in 2015, we have recycled 4,167 metric tons of waste generated from the use of our products, including 1,466 metric tons in 2019 alone.