Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Seek to Eliminate Waste

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Equipment and Processing Report

Equipment and Processing Report, Equipment and Processing Report-11-16-2011, Volume 0, Issue 0

Implementing a zero-waste strategy is not merely an option, it can be seen as a crucial business imperative.

Tough economic conditions, global competition, and regulations that increase chemical producers’ environmental responsibilities are prompting pharmaceutical manufacturers to eliminate waste in their manufacturing processes. Some companies are attempting to avoid sending waste to landfills, and some organizations are focusing on a zero-waste strategy. Rather than simply cutting down on landfills, this strategy seeks to eliminate waste when possible, and reduce or reuse it in other situations. Rising commodity costs provide an opportunity to view waste not just as a potential risk, but also as a finite resource. Thus, implementing a zero-waste strategy is not merely an option, it can be seen as a crucial business imperative.

Manufacturing in the pharmaceutical industry is a complex process that varies from plant to plant and from product to product. Making that process more environmentally friendly can be challenging and therefore must take into consideration regulatory issues, safety, compliance, and economic objectives. Developing a clear and concise road map for the effort is the key to achieving and sustaining the economic benefits associated with zero-waste programs.

A zero-waste strategy requires a systematic approach. Facility location, material composition, and waste volumes are among the crucial components that determine how much value can be extracted from waste. Recycling materials, reusing or repurposing them, and converting them into energy traditionally have been popular methods for eliminating waste. The systematic approach also identifies areas for improvement and cost reduction related to the collection, handling, and packaging of waste materials. For example, as manufacturing outputs and waste volumes change, the process periodically reviews waste-container sizes and pick-up schedules. Using waste to generate energy diverts material from landfills, thus eliminating costs associated with landfill tipping fees and helping achieve the goal of zero waste.

Ultimately, a zero-waste strategy must be customized to address the financial, environmental, and societal needs of the company. A six-step process can help companies address these concerns. The steps include a review of the company’s operations and waste-generation levels, the proposal and evaluation of waste-reduction and -elimination strategies, implementation, and monitoring for continuous improvement. Changes in production levels, fluctuating commodity prices, logistics, and the opening and closing of recycling outlets are the primary reasons that environmental programs require close attention. A company’s resource-management program should work in tandem with the zero-waste program and address the pharmaceutical firm’s changing needs.

A zero-waste strategy requires the ability to measure and track performance not only at the manufacturing facility, but also across the supply chain. The drugmaker’s data-management system needs to present comprehensive information. The system also must enable users to manage all waste categories, as well as returned or recalled products, and commodity recovery. Access to this information will allow a company to establish baseline data from which to measure its progress toward the goal of zero waste. Ensuring that one person can manage this comprehensive data-management system is a crucial success factor for a zero-waste program.


Some pharmaceutical companies operate their own waste treatment or on-site disposal technologies, and some maintain a fleet of waste trucks. Funding these services can be an economic drain, and most pharmaceutical companies that perform these operations have curtailed them or plan to do so in the near future. Besides providing a poor return on investment, maintaining waste-treatment operations can conflict with the goal of eliminating waste.

An effective environmental-action plan requires a detailed assessment to identify opportunities and solutions for implementation. A comprehensive zero-waste strategy can bring economic benefits and reduce environmental risks.

Mel Panko and Dave Carson are strategic account directors at Waste Management, 720 Butterfield Rd., Lombard, IL 60148, tel. 630.572.8936, [email protected].