Packaging Goes Green

Pharmaceutical companies get ideas for sustainable packaging from other industries.
Oct 02, 2009
Volume 33, Issue 10

Hallie Forcinio
How can packaging be more sustainable? Three favored strategies include source reduction, the incorporation of recycled content, and the adoption of renewable materials.

Source reduction

Source reduction means consuming less material through lightweighting or downgauging a package or eliminating one of its components. Redesigned closures are one lightweighting strategy. Short-skirt closures, which are particularly popular in the beverage industry, reduce the amount of plastic in the closure itself and in the neck finish of the bottle. It is common to save about 1.5 g per container–closure. This reduction might not sound like a lot, but it adds up quickly during a production run and cuts resin use by thousands of pounds and packaging costs by thousands, if not millions, of dollars per year.

Three short-skirt designs, 89–400, 110–400, and 120–400, have joined a family of smooth closures designed to be stacked for shipment. The stacked "logs" fit 60% more closures per case than do loosely packed caps. Available with various liner and inner seal options and custom embossing, debossing, or printing, the stacking-shelf design cuts closure weight by 20%, and the more densely packed case reduces distribution packaging by as much as 60%. Freight expenses and warehouse space requirements also shrink, as does the time operators spend replenishing the packaging line. The closures are compatible with glass and plastic containers that hold wet or dry products (TaperStack closures, Innovative Molding, Sebastopol, CA).

Another way to remove weight from packaging is by switching to a lighter material. In the past 30 years, many food products have been switched from glass to polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene, or multilayer plastic containers. With the high-barrier coating and oxygen-scavenger technologies now available, more oxygen-sensitive products such as beer and wine are being packed in PET instead of glass. Compared with traditional glass containers, PET bottles consume less energy in production, distribution, and recycling and result in a smaller carbon footprint.

The experience of two wineries shows how the pharmaceutical industry could switch from glass to high-barrier PET containers for oxygen-sensitive products. Boisett Family Estates (Burgundy, France) offers wines in both 750-mL and 1-L PET bottles for its Yellow Jersey and Fog Mountain brands. An oxygen scavenger blended into the resin slows oxygen permeation and protects the shelf life of the wine (MonOxbar technology and preforms, Constar International, Philadelphia, blow-molded containers, Field Manufacturing, Torrance, CA).

Sutter Home Winery (St. Helena, CA) has added a 187-mL size to its PET container lineup. The custom-designed bottle features an internal silicon-oxide barrier coating to protect product shelf life (Plas-max PET bottles, Ball, Broomfield, CO).

Four bubble diameters ranging from 0.125 to 0.250 in. make it possible to match air-filled Astro-Bubble Green cushioning to various surface-protection and void-fill needs. (PHOTO IS COURTESY OF PREGIS.)
For secondary packaging such as cartons, the superior strength of solid bleached-sulfate paperboard may allow a lighter weight to be used without compromising performance (SBS cartons, Cortegra Group, Fairfield, NJ).

Although it requires measures to ensure that the product is adequately protected, reducing the use of corrugated in distribution packaging is a common source- and cost-reduction strategy. In a survey by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, 51% of respondents said they intend to reduce corrugated consumption by replacing regular slotted cases with bliss boxes or overwrapped trays. Respondents already using overwrapped trays are achieving additional material savings by adopting overwrapped pads or overwrap alone.

Stackable short-skirt designs cut closure weight by 20% and permit 60% more closures to be included in each shipping case. (PHOTO IS COURTESY OF INNOVATIVE MOLDING.)
To fit more primary containers in a pack, a collating system with a single-lane infeed and double-lane discharge positions one container up and one down, back to front. The alternating pattern packs containers tightly, requires less packaging material, reduces waste, and increases packaging-line efficiency (collating system, Morrison Container Handling Solutions, Glenwood, IL).

Another source-reduction tactic, eliminating a packaging element, not only saves material and reduces package weight and transportation costs, but also may reduce package size, thereby enabling more product to be stacked per pallet.

A silicon-oxide coating imparts sufficient barrier properties to polyethylene terephthalate to protect wine in a 187-mL bottle. (PHOTO IS COURTESY OF BALL.)
Packaging conservation also may involve renting pallets from a pallet pool instead of purchasing pallets. For a drugmaker that buys 100,000 wood pallets per year, participating in a pallet pool would reduce solid waste 95%, lower energy consumption 56%, and cut greenhouse-gas emissions 58% for an estimated annual savings of $202,000 (CHEP pallet pool, CHEP, Orlando, FL).

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