SustainabilityIt's important to periodically compare package designs with the reduce, reuse, recycle hierarchy that the Environmental Protection Agency advocates. For example, designers should ask whether the product's efficacy depends on the weight of the package. Even the smallest reduction in material thickness or weight can significantly decrease material costs, transportation costs, and greenhouse-gas emissions (see "Sustainability Surprises" in the September 2008 issue of Pharmaceutical Technology).
Designers should also ask whether the package must be as large as it is. Shrinking the size of a primary package, even by a millimeter or two, not only reduces weight, but also decreases the size of secondary and tertiary packaging. This reduction allows more product to be stacked per pallet, potentially making a difference throughout the supply chain.
Fiber-based materials such as corrugated shipping cases, paperboard folding cartons, and paper-based labels, lidstock, and inserts or outserts should be made from certified material. Third-party certifications to the standards of organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative confirm that the pulp used in the packagingproduction process comes from responsibly managed forests.
Packagers should seek to identify the biggest source of waste on the packaging line and discover how waste could be reduced. If preprinted material is the biggest source of waste, converting to a print-on-demand process might be cost-effective. Print-on-demand equipment is commonly available and includes various types of coders (e.g., laser, inkjet, and thermal-transfer) as well as label printers and applicators. Some units also can incorporate radiofrequency-identification-tag encoding modules to help drugmakers meet pedigree requirements.
If the package is not commonly recycled, packagers should find ways to improve its recycling rate. When recycling, consumers tend to focus on packaging for foods and beverages and overlook containers for other products, which are equally acceptable in many collection programs. Perhaps consumers should be reminded about the container's recyclability through a message on the label or a recycling logo on the base of the package.
The infrastructure supporting the collection of used packaging for recycling needs to be improved. Many trade associations are working to boost recycling rates. In addition, companies such as Estée Lauder's Aveda and TerraCycle have established creative programs to keep packaging material out of landfills.