Sustainability Outside the Box - Pharmaceutical Technology

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Sustainability Outside the Box
Drugmakers and packagers are pursuing various initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints. This article contains bonus material.


Pharmaceutical Technology
Volume 35, Issue 10, pp. 40-44

Recycled content

Levels of recycled content are increasing in many packaging formats, particularly for fiber-based packaging, such as corrugated cases, and film and containers made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). In fact, GSK has switched from a PVC clamshell to a recycled PET (rPET) clamshell for Abreva. The change cuts carbon-dioxide emissions by 25–52 g/pack.

PET films with recycled content fit numerous applications and are compatible with radio-frequency sealing or heat sealing. Designed to contain a minimum of 35% or 50% postconsumer recycled (PCR) content derived from bottles, respectively, the films are suitable for thermoformed packaging, including clamshells, blisters, and trays (Pentaform SmartCycle films, Klöckner Pentaplast Group).

With rising demand, especially from the beverage industry, the supply of food-grade rPET is growing rapidly. New capacity for food-grade rPET is becoming available in North America, Europe, and Asia. A vertically integrated container maker is expanding its recycling facility to produce ultraclean rPET from PCR material so it can increase rPET levels in its food-grade containers. The expansion will also help the company double its worldwide recycling capability to 10 billion bottles per year by 2016 (Clean Tech recycling facility, Plastipak Packaging).

The expansion of a recycling operation in the United Kingdom will more than double production of food-grade rPET in that country and help Coca-Cola Enterprises increase recycled content to 25% in all its PET packaging in Great Britain by 2012 (ECO Plastics).

The expansion of another European recycling plant will increase its rPET capacity from 25,000 to 35,000 metric tons and nearly double the number of bottles diverted from landfills each year. The vertically integrated plant in France also produces preforms (Artenius PET Packaging Europe).

A plant under construction in Vietnam will recycle 1.5 billion PET bottles per year into food-grade rPET. Although configured primarily for bottle-to-bottle applications, the facility also can produce recycled resin for fiber or carpet (Thanh Tai Gas).

Renewable materials

Although bioplastics, such as polylactic acid and microorganism-generated polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), receive considerable attention from package designers and specifiers, much interest in biopolymers has shifted to traditional resins such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and PET made from plant-derived feedstocks. These replacements are chemically identical to their petroleum-based counterparts and are recyclable through existing postconsumer collection streams.

In fact, bio-based commodity plastics are forecast to overtake biodegradable materials globally, especially for packaging applications. "Our market study shows that biobased commodity plastics, with a total of around 1 million [metric] tons, will make up the majority of production capacity in 2015," reports Hans-Josef Endres, professor of engineering and biotechnology at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Hanover, Germany. Of a total market of 1.7 million metric tons in 2015, traditional biodegradable bioplastics will account for 0.7 million metric tons (3).


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