The new year is approaching fast, and it's not too early to think about goals for 2009. Although they differ from person to
person and from job to job, three goals should be on every packaging team's list for 2009: improving the sustainability of
its package or packaging line; identifying and implementing a container, material, machine, or practice that could improve
its packaging process; and considering ways to make its packaging more consumer-friendly.
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No matter which goal a team pursues, taking time to plan strategies and tactics in advance will help ensure that it is achieved.
It'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.
Another criterion to evaluate is whether the package contains recycled content. If it does, perhaps more recycled content
can be added. If recycled content is present, that fact should be noted on the package for consumers.
Plastic-identification recycling codes help consumers increase recycling rates. PETE is polyethylene terephthalate, HDPE is
high-density polyethylene, V is vinyl, LDPE is low-density polyethylene, PP is polypropylene, and PS is polystyrene. (IMAGE
IS COURTESY OF THE SOCIETY OF THE PLASTICS INDUSTRY.)
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.