Well-designed packaging plays an important role in delivering more sustainable products that help our customers reduce their environmental impacts and costs.
While a product’s packaging often has a lower environmental impact than other product life cycle phases, we understand that packaging is one of the most visible and tangible impacts for our customers. Not only do we strive to improve packaging quality, but we also aim to help customers reduce packaging waste and the time, effort and costs associated with handling and disposing of it.
Packaging is a challenging issue for the life science industry due to requirements for sterile conditions, protection for fragile contents, and additional certifications and data sheets. All this means extra packaging, which in turn requires extra environmental resources and creates waste disposal challenges.
To address these challenges, we incorporate sustainable packaging principles into our product Design for Sustainability criteria. We identify potential areas of optimization in order to reduce material usage during packaging manufacture without compromising the quality and safety. This also aims to increase the percentage of materials that minimally impact the environment, including recycled content. For example, the majority of the cardboard boxes used to package products within our U.S. facilities are certified to the standards of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).
We also work with our suppliers and distribution partners to reduce any excess secondary over-packaging that sometimes inadvertently negates the reductions we have made in a product’s primary packaging.
In our packaging, we aim to use as much recycled content as possible. We choose packaging materials to ensure product sterility and protection, while minimizing excess package size, mass, volume and material. In addition, we are looking to ensure that packaging materials are responsibly sourced, and we are evaluating use of certified materials.
Our Titripac® packaging system for volumetric solutions was designed to make titration more reliable and less wasteful. Constructed from a recyclable corrugated outer box and durable inner bag, featuring a unique built-in contamination-proof dispenser tap, the per-liter packaging is less than half the weight of the alternative packaging in plastic bottles. This means that the solution cannot be contaminated, and that once the product is used up, the outer box can be fully recycled, whereas the plastic bottle packaging may not be due to the product contents. We conducted a product carbon footprint analysis comparing the Titripac® and plastic bottle packaging systems, and found that the reduced material weight and high recyclability of Titripac® result in lower life cycle global warming potential in each phase investigated: material production, manufacturing, distribution and end-of-life combining for an overall reduction of 42% in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions. Because the product is safe from contamination in this packaging design, less chemical product waste is generated as it can be used effectively to the last drop.
1 Compared to Merck Millipore's product delivery system using 1 liter bottles
We are investigating more sustainable materials to create a cost effective and globally harmonized packaging solution for solvents and inorganic reagents. Molded pulp can be considered a more sustainable option for cushioning products since it is manufactured from 100% recycled paperboard or newsprint and can be readily recycled and disposed of. In 2013, molded pulp was introduced as the cushioning material for our 1 Liter and 2.5L glass bottles for solvents and inorganic reagents globally, replacing styrofoam. The new UN-rated containers (safety designation for shipping dangerous goods) will be packed in either four pack or six pack configurations. All top selling products were targeted first for this new solution and have been updated to no longer use styrofoam cushioning. With about 80% of all solvents and reagents now packed with molded pulp, space and handling savings for us and our customers are evident. The molded pulp cushion materials can be nested, and therefore a single pallet can hold over four times as many of these as compared to the more bulky foam. The next step - already in progress - is to convert the packaging for the remaining product sizes (500ml and 4L bottles) and offer 100% of our solvents and inorganic reagents in this more sustainable packaging.
For our Milli-Q® Integral Water Purification Systems used for lab water purification, molded pulp cushioning is used for the product accessories. The Q-Pod® used to be packaged with polyethylene, but now it utilizes a custom molded pulp cushioning material which is made from 100% recycled fiber and is fully recyclable. The number of pallets required to store the material was reduced by 90%.
We use the Green-e Label on products that are manufactured at sites for which we purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), indicating the use of certified renewable energy. This includes products manufactured in Temecula, CA, St. Charles, MO, Hayward, CA, San Diego, CA and Danvers, MA.
We design and right-size packaging in order to minimize the amount of packaging used. For example, we are moving from hard copy Microscopy insert sheets to electronic insert sheets, which will be available online at the central global homepage and support our customers before they apply our products at human or animal material. This shift will reduce the need for extra packaging required with paper insert sheets, while still complying with the EU directive and FDA regulation, which define insert sheets need to be provided to the customer before product use and contain all handling and storage advices, as well as the active ingredients.
In our Lab Water product line we are consistently looking for right sizing opportunities. We changed to a thinner pallet wrap for 35,000 pallets per year, reducing material weight by 49%.
Many of our products include bulk antibody vials, reagents and test kits that are refrigerated or frozen and need to maintain temperature during distribution to customers. With increasingly more environmentally conscious customers, we are exploring packaging alternatives to our current expanded polystyrene (EPS) boxes packed with dry ice or cooler packs. We are focused on options that do not compromise temperature quality, but that are smaller, lighter and can demonstrate reduced environmental impacts.
We also understand that our customers have certain contamination requirements to meet, and we are working with them to offer packaging solutions with reduced use of corrugated. For example, the double PE sack solution offers high stability to ensure good transport and storage safety, and the perforation seam offers ease of handling.