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Generally, the pharma industry isn't doing enough to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging materials, but there are various historic reasons for this.
Editor's Note: This article is part of a special feature on packaging that was published in the November issue of PTE Digital.
Generally, the pharma industry isn't doing enough to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging materials, but there are various historic reasons for this and pharma is well aware that its products lag behind in the environmental stakes compared with other industries. In an industry that requires the most exacting health and safety standards, other design priorities, such as tamperevidence, childresistance or shelf-life will always take precedence.
The nature of pharmaceutical products means that the majority of the containers used are disposable and only suitable for one use. Plastics dominate as the main type of material because of performance, durability and lightweight, but these are not easily recyclable. Our company has worked hard in recent years to develop and encourage post consumer recycled (PCR) plastic packaging for various applications. Whilst this has proved popular in, for example, the cosmetics sector, it is much more difficult to get this approved by the FDA. There are several methods of recycling, but each one presents issues regarding contaminant residues that may be present in postconsumer material. However, this is an ongoing issue and as new chemistry data is presented and new knowledge acquired, the FDA's guidance may change.
The bureaucracy that inhibits even simple changes to pharmaceutical packaging is also a major issue; any licensed drug or medicine that undergoes a change to its packaging container, closure or labelling, must be reregistered. This is often an expense and inconvenience that few manufacturers are prepared to bear.
Although plastics remain prevalent, we've also noticed that apothecarystyle glass containers are making something of a comeback. Glass, of course, remains a more widely and easily recyclable material than its more popular plastic successor.
Several manufacturers have also started to consider flexible pouch packaging as a convenient and more environmentallyfriendly way of packaging pharmaceuticals. Our pouches are suitable for granules, powders and solids, as well as a variety of liquids, such as creams, gels and ointments. When compared to their predecessors (e.g., metal cans, solid plastic pots/bottles and lids), the pouches not only use less material but also use less transport because they are collapsible. Flat packed, the pouches can be shipped in bulk for a fraction of the cost of conventional packaging containers, significantly reducing a company's carbon footprint, as well as its overheads.
With any new environmentallyfriendly packaging solution, the main hurdle in the conservative pharma industry is persuading manufacturers to take a leap of faith and try it out. Environmental benefits will never be a major priority in this sector's choice of packaging material, but it is nonetheless one of several compelling reasons why new solutions, such as pouches, should be considered.
Jon Wear is Sales Director at Johnsen & Jorgensen.