EMD Millipore Begins Recycling Program for Laboratory Water Filter Cartridges

September 27, 2011

EMD Millipore (Billerica, Massachusetts), a division of Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, has launched a new program for users of laboratory water filtration systems to recycle the filters? plastic housings.

EMD Millipore (Billerica, Massachusetts), a division of Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, has launched a new program for users of laboratory water filtration systems to recycle the filters’ plastic housings. Through the program, customers in the United States will be able to ship used water filters to a recycling facility in Iowa, where the filter materials and some small components will be discarded and the main plastic housing and packaging will be recycled.

Customers will be able to ship individual filter cartridges to the recycling center using the same carton in which they receive a replacement cartridge. Laboratories that consume large quantities of filters can ship them in a drum provided by EMD Millipore. The “Ech2o” program, as it is called, covers the full line of water filters sold by the company.

Heritage Environmental Services (Indianapolis, Indiana) will handle the recycling at a facility in Iowa City, Iowa. Cartridges will be fully traceable using a barcode to enable the company to audit recycling levels, ensure that recyclables are not diverted to landfills, and assess the success of the program.

The company is confident that many people will participate. “Customers have been asking for this for several years,” said Stéphane Mabic, the project manager for the company’s sustainability initiative in its laboratory water business.

A third-party organization has conducted a life cycle assessment to evaluate the potential environmental impact of the program and to ensure that the effects would not simply be transferred from one environmental indicator to another. The study showed that recycling the cartridge housings would lower the environmental impact of five of the six indicators evaluated. Product and packaging solid waste would be decreased 42% as a result of the program, energy consumption would be lowered 8%, global warming potential would be decreased 3%, consumption of natural resources would be reduced 7%, and eutrophication, which highlights the effect on water, would be lowered 11%. The program had a neutral effect on air acidification. According to this study, the overall environmental impact for the life cycle of a given cartridge would be reduced by 10–12%.

“If all the solid waste of these cartridges were recycled every year, it would save 70 tons of solid waste,” said Mabic. “The success of the program will depend on the amount of materials recycled, so we hope to get a lot of customers engaged,” he added.

The cartridges will be ground into pellets that will be used to make shipping pallets initially and potentially other products, such as beverage containers. Currently, the recycled material is not suitable to make new filter housings, which must meet high standards for sterility, said Johanna Jobin, the sustainability programs manager for EMD Millipore.

But EMD Millipore, through its Design for Sustainability program, is exploring the use of the recycled pellets and bioplastics — which have limitations similar to those of recycled plastics — to make other parts for both its bioscience and biopharmaceutical products, such as filter holders, that do not come into contact with the customer’s fluid path or water being filtered. The company already has used bioplastics to make one such product, the “EcoStand,” which is a centrifuge tube holder. “That is a small item, but found in every laboratory, so it’s a start,” said Jobin. “We look forward to identifying other opportunities to reduce the environmental impacts of our products and helping to meet our customers’ sustainability goals.”

The company would like to expand the program beyond the United States, but doing so is complicated, particularly in Europe, Mabic said. A Europe-wide program is difficult because transporting the cartridges, which are considered waste, across borders, is subject to heavy restrictions. As a result, it may be easier to start by establishing a program in one or more individual European countries, even though the volume would be smaller. “We are now in talks with the French regulatory authorities to explore a program there,” he said.

Filter users may learn more or register for the program at www.millipore.com/lab_water/flx4/ech2o