Case Study: Monarch Nucleic Acid Purification Kits

It can be difficult to be environmentally friendly in the lab, where sterility and convenience are of utmost importance. Instituting recycling programs, shutting off lights, and closing hood sashes all help reduce the environmental impact of a laboratory.  But what about consumables?  There is certainly a demand for green alternatives to toxic chemicals, products that conserve materials, and products that can be easily reused or recycled.  How can suppliers meet this need, when at times, it seems that sustainability and benchwork are at odds with each other?  This post tells the story of New England Biolabs’ (NEB) development of Monarch® Nucleic Acid Purification Kits, a product line designed with sustainability in mind.

 Nucleic acid purification is notorious for generating large amounts of waste in the lab.  All those little columns, collection tubes and cardboard packaging. We began by asking customers what could be done to make nucleic acid purification eco-friendly.  Customers said this:

We wanted to address all of these concerns, and create a superior product with improved recovery of concentrated, pure DNA in less time.  So what did we come up with?

     Monarch Kits use up to 44% less plastic compared to the leading supplier

    Thinner-walled columns reduce total plastic usage without affecting performance

    Bottles were carefully chosen to minimize plastic usage

    All components were purposefully sourced to ensure their recyclability

    Product packaging provides detailed explanation on how to recycle each component

    Boxes were designed to be sturdy for reuse

    Kit boxes, inserts, and protocol cards are made from recycled materials

    All printing on the boxes and protocol cards was done with soy and water based inks

    Concise protocol cards replace printed manuals – both are available as PDFs

With some thoughtful design, we were able to reduce the total plastic in the Monarch kits by an average of 34%, as compared to the leading supplier’s kits.  This was achieved with a unique column design and thinner-walled columns and collection tubes. Furthermore, lighter-weight bottles that hold the appropriate for the amount of liquid contained inside were chosen.

 100% of the fiber in our outer boxes comes from reclaimed post-consumer material.  "Post-consumer" means that the materials are derived from paper goods previously used by consumers.  Magazines, cardboard boxes and office paper are put through a process by which they are pulverized and remade into paper products, such as our Monarch box.

 Monarch boxes use a very small magnet enclosure; they are sturdy and reusable, and can be utilized for lab storage.  If you prefer to recycle them, they collapse flat for an easy fit into your nearest paper recycling bin.  The process of paper recycling includes a step in which a magnet is used to pull out any metal present in the paper stream, including staples and fasteners.  During this step, the small magnet enclosure will be removed, and the paper continues through the recycling process.

 Monarch columns and collection tubes are made from polypropylene (#5), and can be recycled with other hard plastics.  There is such a small trace of silica present in the membrane that it does not interfere with recycling processes.  In order to maximize the quality of post-consumer plastic made from the recycled materials, it is ideal to pop out the membrane before recycling.  That said, please refer to your institution’s policies and guidelines regarding disposal, especially when dealing with biohazard waste.

 We hope that the forethought and attention to sustainability applied to the product design and packaging of Monarch Nucleic Acid Purification Kits inspires others to consider environmental impact in their product development.  And we hope that our Monarch kits make it a little bit easier for individual labs to reduce, reuse and recycle.