Packaging protects our products from external influences and ensures that they reach the customer undamaged. It also prevents materials from leaking. Our packaging must therefore remain intact across the entire life cycle of our products – from transport and storage, through usage to disposal. Beyond safety, we also endeavor to design packaging that uses as few resources as possible. We are therefore working to reduce the amount of material required, as well as increasingly utilizing eco-friendly materials where possible. In the process, we ensure that the quality and safety of our packaging are not adversely impacted.
Our new sustainable packaging strategy
We aim to deliver our products in packaging that is safe and easy for our customers to handle, and as sustainable as possible. The more than 300,000 products in our Life Science portfolio – ranging from biochemicals to lab chemicals, from filter materials and systems to instruments – pose a variety of challenges when it comes to packaging. We strive to improve the sustainability of this packaging through measures such as reusable packaging systems or by avoiding the use of polystyrene. To achieve this goal, we are in the process of defining our new sustainable packaging strategy for Life Science to formalize our approach and set meaningful targets. This strategy is built on the three pillars of optimizing resources, choosing more sustainable materials, and recapturing post-use value. We are establishing priorities, goals, and specific initiatives to support them in the coming years. In doing so, we are continuing to position ourselves vis-a-vis our customers as an ambitious partner committed to the circular economy.
Making packaging more sustainable
A great deal of our packaging is based on wood fiber. We are constantly working to increase the share of corrugated cardboard boxes certified to the standards governing sustainable forestry. These include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). In adhering to these standards, we are doing our part to prevent deforestation.
Cellulose and air cushions replace polystyrene and foam
In the past, we secured glass reagent bottles 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. It is also difficult to recycle and takes up a lot of space. By contrast, molded pulp components can be easily recycled with other paper materials and compacted together for storage and transport. We have therefore initiated a substitution program in which we are developing solutions to replace EPS as far as possible with molded components made of cellulose and recycled paper pulp. In doing so, the safety of the packaging is always our top priority.
When shipping items from our major distribution centers in the United States and Germany, a large portion of our reagent bottles are secured using molded pulp components. Since 2017, we’ve been using molded pulp inserts to pack our 4X4 liter bottles in shipping boxes, thereby replacing around 350,000 EPS parts per year. We are currently conducting safety tests on new pulp designs for shipping other bottles of various sizes. As of 2018, our 6x0.5 liter and 1x4 liter reagent bottles are also to be secured using molded pulp. Overall, we use a total of 324 metric tons of molded pulp packaging material each year. In addition to these measures, in 2017 we replaced foam packaging with biodegradable air cushions at our distribution center in Allentown, Pennsylvania (USA).
As well as finding eco-friendlier alternatives to ship our products safely, we are working with Biogen, a specialist biotech company, to develop a more sustainable bulk-packaging design to transport our Millistak+® Pod Disposable Depth Filter. We are currently conducting a Life Cycle Assessment, with promising initial results. We expect a 21% reduction in used corrugated cardboard, which translates to a 19% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from the production of packaging materials. In addition to these savings, the large packages will cut down our delivery trips by 12%, thus further reducing emissions and energy use. Moreover, 70% less time is required in the processing of products and their packaging.
More cardboard instead of plastic
The analytical technique of titration is utilized in laboratories to assure the quality of various products by verifying the purity of the raw materials. Although the necessary solvents are conventionally packed in plastic bottles, we use Titripac® because it offers an eco-friendlier alternative for supplying solvents to our Life Science customers. Using a cardboard carton and plastic liner with an integrated withdrawal tap, we 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. In 2016, Titripac® was recognized with the Green Good Design Award for sustainable product design.
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 U.S. customers the option of sending us back these boxes. If they are still fully functional we reuse them – and with more than 20,000 boxes used per year, this significantly reduces waste.
Integrating stainless steel canisters in production
In Korea and Taiwan, our Performance Materials liquid crystal mixtures are delivered to display manufacturers in stainless steel canisters, an approach we extended to China in 2017. 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 2017, 1,512 standardized canisters were in circulation within this closed system, allowing them to be reused over multiple years.
Steel instead of glass
Thanks to our bulk product delivery system, our solvents are delivered to our U.S.-based Life Science customers in special reusable steel containers such as the EMD ReCycler®. We started the program with containers of 18 and 50 liters in 2010. Since then we have filled more than 12,000 reusable containers annually. Over the years we have partly shifted to containers of 1,250 liters, which now make up roughly 10% of all containers filled.
Our customers can return the empty containers to us for refilling, enabling us to significantly reduce the consumption of primary packaging materials. Since the stainless steel containers are shipped without additional packaging, we also save a lot of the packaging material normally needed to ship glass bottles, which must be packed in boxes and cushioned by molded components.
In Europe, we also deliver solvents required in bulk for preparative chromatography in reusable stainless steel containers. Our customers send the empty containers back to us, where they are properly cleaned and then reused. Approximately 70,000 of our stainless steel containers are currently in circulation across Europe. The rate of return is at around 90%.