Reuse and recycling

Through take-back programs, as well as environmentally sustainable recycling and disposal of used chemicals and packaging, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany works with its customers to help reduce the environmental impacts of its products and services. We strive to communicate and collaborate with our customers, suppliers and other partners to identify ways to develop innovative, safe product packaging, recycling and end-of-life programs that help our customers reduce their own disposal impacts.

The life science business’ Design for Sustainability  program encourages our Research & Development teams to design products with reduced life cycle impacts. This includes reusable or recyclable materials that are easy to recover or disassemble. We furthermore strive to eliminate materials that are costly to manage, such as toxic substances. This allows the life science business to continually improve the recycling potential of new products through measures such as simplified disassembly, or by increasing the percentage of recyclable materials in its products.

The following examples show how we are implementing product packaging, recycling and end-of-life programs:

  • Biopharma product recycling program: Single-use products play an increasingly important role in the biopharmaceutical industry. In 2012, the life science business and five customers jointly launched a pilot Biopharma Product Recycling Program  in the United States. In 2013, we expanded this pilot program to include two more customers in the United States. The total product waste diverted from traditional disposal during 2013 was 72 metric tons. In 2014 we increased the amount of product waste diverted to 117 metric tons. Out of the 189 metric tons of product waste diverted in 2013 and 2014, we were able to recycle 91 metric tons of plastic. For its Biopharma Product Recycling Program, the life science business received a Sustainability award from its customer Biogen Idec – the first award to be given out to a supplier. This was the first customer recognition for the life science business’ Biopharma Product Recycling Program.
  • Ech2o™: Recycling program for lab water purification cartridges: The Lab Water business field of the life science business launched the Ech2o™ program for water purification cartridges in 2012. The program enables our customers in the U.S. to send back their cartridges for recycling, thus avoiding the need for traditional disposal methods such as landfill or incineration. A life cycle assessment has revealed that this can reduce the environmental impact of the cartridges by 10%-15%. During the last two years more than 300 customers have returned over 2,000 used cartridges. This represents approximately 5 metric tons of product waste that has been diverted from landfill or incineration. We are continuing to work with our customers and our partners to increase awareness of the program and training in the hopes of driving up customer return rates.

We are currently applying our lessons learned and investigating how we can expand both of these programs beyond the United States, to markets in Europe and Asia. Our longer-term goal is to expand our product recycling and reuse initiatives beyond biopharma and lab water purification cartridges, as well as capturing additional plastic products in labs.

Environmentally sustainable, safe disposal

Initially set up in Germany over 20 years ago, the objective of the Retrologistik®  program is to provide a system for safe and environmentally sound management of chemical waste and used packaging. In addition to agreements on environmentally sustainable disposal, this program offers chemical users and local waste disposal firms access to information, training and services to implement sound chemical and package waste management. We expanded the program and established the concept in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand through a three-year strategic alliance (2010-2013) with the German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ ) called “Environmentally Sound Management of Chemical Waste in South East Asia”.

Strategic alliance with GIZ

The strategic alliance with GIZ aimed to establish the Retrologistik® concept in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand in order to increase environmental awareness there as well as change how people handle hazardous materials. The project has improved training, auditing and implementation capacity in the respective countries, with the transfer of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany technology and knowledge playing a crucial role. Informational and training materials were developed and made available in the national languages of each country and approximately 9,000 people received training. Furthermore, approximately 230 metric tons of chemical waste was properly managed in the participating countries between March 2010 and May 2013.

At three universities in Thailand, 20 “model labs” were established to demonstrate responsible, environmentally sustainable chemical management. As a result of these pilot programs, it is estimated that 300 chemical users adopted the Environmentally Sound Management of Chemical Waste system or an equivalent system for their laboratories. Additionally, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and training partner organizations in Thailand will continue to offer training on Environmentally Sound Management of Chemical Waste to interested chemical users.

In Indonesia, we built a bottle washing plant that operates according to European standards, the first of its kind. This plant has the capacity to treat 9,000 chemical bottles per month. After we installed the cleaning facility, the Jababeka Industrial Estate assumed ownership of the project and we continue to promote the project and spread awareness to their customers within the region. While the three-year strategic alliance ended in 2013, the company is continuing to support the project and spread awareness in the region through sales and marketing activities.

In the Philippines we implemented the Environmentally Sound Management of Chemical Waste concept, with a focus on photometric cuvette tests. In the region of Luzon, for instance, 25 companies participate in the program and approximately 500 test sets are safely disposed of per year.

In the Philippines, training programs helped chemical users become more aware of the significance of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) and of the information on chemical safety, storage and disposal available on the internet, especially on our website. The academic sector in particular became more aware of the importance of the information readily available in the safety data sheet (SDS). We reached at least 50 academic institutions. Following the training, we observed improvements in the safety signs in the respective facilities, proper chemical separation and segregation, as well as support for company management and heads of schools regarding chemical safety programs.

At least 400 participants from more than 150 companies came to the 7th Safety Summit held in Manila in June 2014. For the first time this program was also conducted in two other provinces to reach more laboratory practitioners. In all, the company's subsidiary in the Philippines has reached more than 5,000 people through the various seminars and summits that we have conducted.

In Europe, solvents for large-scale application in preparative chromatography are supplied in reusable stainless steel barrels or containers. Customers send back the empty containers to our site in Darmstadt, Germany for professional cleaning and reuse. Approximately 20,000 stainless steel barrels and 20,000 stainless steel drums are circulated in Europe. The rate of return is 90% for the barrels; for the drums it is around 50%.


Like the Retrologistik®  program in Europe, our EMD ReCycler® Bulk Product Delivery System has been designed to increase safe handling and decrease packaging of our solvents for our U.S.-based customers. The system allows our customers to reuse a dedicated fleet of stainless steel containers for delivery of solvents. When the customer requests it, we send another full container to replace the empty one, which can then be sent back to be refilled.

During 2014 we conducted a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on this system. We compared the 200L ReCycler® product delivery system to our equivalent 4L glass bottle product delivery system. The total volume delivered was based on 1000L of product being used by a customer. We modeled the distances based on the three different locations within the U.S. The study showed that the ReCycler® product delivery system led to an average 69% reduction in life cycle GHG emissions, a 77% reduction in life cycle energy demand, a 53% reduction in packaging-to-product weight ratio, a 46% increase in cube utilization, and a 99% reduction in mass of waste due to packaging.


Publication of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

In the United States and Canada the subsidiaries of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany operate under the umbrella brand EMD.

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