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Carolina Biological Minimizes Environmental Footprint by Reducing Plastic Use and Designing Reusable Science Kits

Carolina Biological Supply Company
Julie Gates
(562) 429-5972 or jgatespr@yahoo.com

Concern for environmental impact results in 80% reduction of waste in the science product supplier’s packaging boxes and filler.

BURLINGTON, NC, Oct. 15, 2019 – Carolina Biological Supply Company, the leading school science supplier, is setting a global example and doing its part to protect the environment by making choices and investments that reduced its use of plastic and packing materials.

Carolina decreased its environmental footprint by encouraging reuse of plastic parts in its science kits and making chemistry products safer for students and teachers. The company was able to cut down the size of product shipping packages in 80% of outgoing orders since investing in a custom box-making technology, Box On Demand®, several years ago.

A company full of scientists, Carolina has a natural interest in being environmentally conscious; it continuously investigates alternatives to materials and business practices that may harm the environment. With more than 17,000 science products for K–12 schools as well as colleges, Carolina considers materials that keep costs low for its customers and can be reused. Every material Carolina selects for manufacturing its products is tested for safety, durability, reusability, and ability to perform the intended task.

"As a member of the scientific community for almost a century, making sure we constantly explore and adopt better ways to reduce our footprint in the environment and keep our products safe for teachers and students is very important to Carolina Biological," Jim Parrish, president at Carolina Biological, said. "The Box On Demand investment allowed us to reduce the amount of filler we were using by as much as 80% and reduce our carbon footprint by shipping less too. That’s huge! It has helped our company make a dramatic reduction in waste over the last six years. We are now in the process of replacing all the lights in our shipping facility with new bulbs that use a minimal amount of electricity. We are open to ideas with every product and project."

Minimizing Plastic Waste

In developing science kits, Carolina reviews how they can have the least environmental impact. In its classroom kits, it looks for ways that plastic items—such as cups and containers—can have multiple uses, allowing teachers to reuse the components multiple times.

Recognizing global concern about the use of plastic straws in the food industry and their impact on the environment, Carolina investigated alternatives for the plastic straws students use in some of its science kits. These straws serve as axles, not straws for drinking beverages. Carolina found that paper straws are not durable enough and don’t work well as a replacement for plastic for these science tasks. Also, after disassembling their projects, students can reuse the plastic straws for classroom activities, making the most sense for reducing waste.

Some Carolina kits contain their contents in durable plastic totes for classroom storage. This benefits school districts that rotate the kits among multiple schools by keeping the contents together and in good condition for reuse. The company also provides resources that enable teachers to save paper by assigning students digital tasks instead of copying sets of 30-plus-page paper blackline masters for the class.

Custom-Size Boxes

When choosing Carolina products, teachers can be confident that the company considers environmental impact and classroom safety, and delivers its items in the closest-fitting packaging possible.

Carolina learned about the cutting-edge Box On Demand® technology at a tradeshow and saw it as a progressive opportunity to make custom-size shipping boxes as small as possible for each individual order. The company investigated the equipment for its distribution center—a 210,000-square-foot facility in Rock Creek, North Carolina. Concerned that the equipment might not be able to meet the needs of the company’s wide range of products—including glass test tubes, sensitive microscopes, and full-size aquariums—the Carolina team decided to visit the most innovative shipper, Amazon, to see the equipment in action. The team was convinced and began developing a plan to install Box On Demand® equipment at its own distribution center. This required re-engineering the entire packing line and automated conveyors and changing how products are packed.

The result is Carolina now makes more than 80% of its shipping boxes in "real time on demand," and the amount of packing materials it requires plummeted by 70% to 80%. Shipping smaller packages is saving the company and its customers money with its parcel carrier, and complaints about packaging from customers have virtually disappeared.

Energy Efficient Lighting

Carolina is also making another environmental improvement at its Rock Creek facility by equipping it with energy efficient lights. The new environmentally friendly LED lights have no ballast and thus no mercury; they are cooler, last longer, and should save as much as 38% on electricity costs once the full facility is updated. (So far, the lights brighten about 70,000 square feet of the building.)

Purposeful Packing

In addition to reducing box sizes, Carolina opts for "green" materials to fill any void in its packages. Instead of conventional plastic, it uses air pillows and quilts made from biodegradable film that rapidly breaks down once exposed to weather as well as brown paper fillers. If a product must be shipped using packing peanuts, Carolina uses biodegradable peanuts made from natural, nontoxic sources, such as wheat and cornstarch. These packing peanuts dissolve instantly in water and can be tossed into compost piles after a single use.

Safer, Greener Chemistry

Carolina always looks at the greenest alternative to make its classroom chemistry activities safe for teachers and students. It chooses specific chemicals for educational chemistry products to be safer and environmentally friendly.

For example, in the Carolina Chemonstrations®: Isolating the Elements kit, students initially isolated four elements from different compounds and used sulfuric acid. Carolina’s product developer was able to re-engineer the kit to remove the need for sulfuric acid during this set of lab activities, making the investigation chemically safer.

Carolina’s organic chemistry kit, Carolina ChemKits®: Caffeine Extraction from Tea, used chloroform to extract caffeine from tea. The company’s product developer re-engineered the kit to remove the need for chloroform to make this chemically safer for classroom use.

Carolina offers science education supplies, curriculum, and kits in physical, print, and digital formats. For information, visit Carolina’s website, call 800.334.5551, or email curriculum@carolina.com.

Carolina Biological Supply Company

From its beginnings in 1927, Carolina (www.carolina.com) has grown to become the leading supplier of biological and other science teaching materials in the world. Headquartered in Burlington, NC, Carolina serves customers worldwide, including teachers, students, and professionals in science and health-related fields. The company is still privately owned by descendants of the founder, geology and biology professor Dr. Thomas E. Powell Jr.