Reducing the carbon footprint of our products through redesign and minimal packaging

As the largest US shipper of dry ice with FedEx and given the poor recyclability of expanded polystyrene (EPS) coolers, energy intensity of refrigerants like dry ice and gel packs, and packaging weight, cold shipping of our products represents our largest environmental impact and opportunity.

The implications go beyond our own impact; our packaging creates waste that leaves our customers with disposal issues. While our customers value the quality of what we deliver, feedback from around the world continues to indicate that our packaging practices must change, so that our packaging does not become our customers’ waste.

We're developing and delivering innovative packaging solutions to address this and other challenges.


Reducing customer waste with biodegradable packaging
The engineers at the Inchinnan, Scotland facility designed a biodegradable packaging solution for Life Technologies™ primers that eliminated 3.8 tons of customer waste and reduced customer complaints.

Hunting for air
Hunting for air and “right-sizing” packaging removes unnecessary space, resulting in smaller shipping boxes and less refrigerant use. We introduced 25 new boxes for more than 100,000 product kits sold annually. These smaller boxes require less product storage space.

Made of 100% recycled paper, 50% post-consumer waste, and totally recyclable at end of life, these boxes also help avoid nearly 12 tons of CO2 emissions and save 125,000 gallons of water annually.

Optimizing use of dry ice
The use of dry ice is standard in transporting biological materials—the "consumables" that our customers use in their laboratories. We have done a great deal of work to convert frozen consumables to methods of shipping at ambient temperatures, but we are continuing to decrease our use of coolers and dry ice.

While you might consider dry ice to be carbon neutral, the process of making it involves taking CO2 from the air, which then sublimates back. Creating dry ice requires a very large amount of energy. From that perspective, dry ice has a significant negative environmental impact. Since it’s heavier than the products we ship, dry ice also has a higher negative impact on freight emissions. Reducing our dry ice usage is good for our business and good for the environment. This is driving a huge effort to use only the dry ice we need.

Customer feedback inspires packaging reduction for Vector NTI® Express software
Vector NTI® Express software now uses less packaging material than the preceding packaging design for Vector NTI® Advance software. In fact, the Vector NTI® Express v1.0 software, user's manual, quick start guide, install guide, and release notes are no longer being shipped because they are now available in downloadable formats. Thanks to customer feedback, we have eliminated the shipment of CDs/DVDs, packaging, and associated documentation, consisting of over 800 pages and weighing more than 4 pounds.

The environmental benefits of doing this include elimination of packaging material and waste, and an associated decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

Reusable packaging delivery methods
For some customers, we are utilizing bulk reusable coolers in place of EPS coolers. Due to the improved thermal efficiencies of these units, we can reduce our dry ice consumption by 37,000 pounds and eliminate 9,000 pounds of one-way packaging material. We are looking to expand this program.

Right-sizing our EPS coolers
By decreasing the wall thickness, material density, and size of our coolers, we have reduced the usage of polystyrene by 30%—the equivalent of 52 truckloads per year.

We also stock a range of box sizes to optimize the weight and cooling requirements of the order. An extremely small cooler, the mini-mini, has been designed to ship our smallest products. This cooler uses 17% less EPS than the next larger size.

Alternative shipping materials
We are continually researching alternative packaging materials to EPS. We have tested felt, wax-insulated cardboard, insulated padded envelopes, air-filled plastic liner coolers, chiller bags, reusable thermal boxes, and more.

Although none of these alternatives meets the thermal requirements necessary to maintain our product quality standards, we continue to search for innovative alternatives.

Learn more about Thermo Fisher Scientific business sustainability initiatives.