Growing pressure on pharma to use more sustainable packaging solutions
Updated: Oct 28
One of the biggest bottlenecks in getting advanced drug therapies and vaccines to patients in need has nothing to do with funding, research, or a lack of participants in trials — but the actual packaging of the pharma product. There are many boxes to tick when choosing the most appropriate packaging: including preservation of therapeutic effects, ensuring global supply with minimal environmental impact, avoiding counterfeit, using best chain-of-custody, among others.
Glass and its challenges
The main material used in primary pharmaceutical packaging is glass. Its main advantage in terms of sustainability is its recyclability, meaning that most glass packaging should never end up in a landfill. Glass can be repurposed repeatedly, without compromising the integrity of each new product. However, during the pandemic glass manufacturing has struggled to keep up with supply, mostly due to increased demand for medicine containers and the collection of recyclables was disrupted, resulting in a shortage of raw materials, including glass(1).
So, what about alternative materials?
Plastic containers have many advantages; they are light but still hardwearing and with good sealing properties. Furthermore, they are cheap to manufacture, chemically inert and resistant to corrosion(2). But plastic is still a fossil-based material with all its environmentally negative characteristics. Pharmaceuticals generate approximately 55% more greenhouse gas emissions than the automotive industry and the global blister packaging market is expected to reach an annual growth rate of 6.45% during 2021-2026(3) in Europe, where around 80% of all solid medication is presented in blister format.
Any other solutions?
Various alternatives are currently being explored, with some already in use, aiming at lowering the carbon footprint of pharmaceutical packaging. These alternatives include recycled materials or materials derived from sustainable products, such as corn starch, sugar cane and cassava.
There are other initiatives and collaborations taking place as well. Forest industry companies like Stora Enso and UPM are working on interesting wood fiber-based alternatives. Companies like Trifilon, a biocomposite supplier, already provide plug'n'play solutions today by offering a mix of organic materials to replace non-bio-based material currently used by industrial companies.
Despite the efforts being made by companies to switch to more recyclable and compostable fossil free materials, the demands for more sustainable solutions by authorities, payers and most importantly the end users (both patients and clinicians) are expected to continue to grow across the industry.
Tough targets to meet
The global pharma sector would need to reduce its emissions by 59% come 2025 in order to comply with the carbon reduction targets of the Paris Agreement. Major players like Roche and Johnson & Johnson have significantly reduced their emissions in recent years, but the industry in general still has a long way to go and must step up its efforts.
What to do next?
At Opticom, we have vast experience of working with clients to better understand packaging demands and providing market insight into future packaging design. Contact us today and we’ll help you make better decisions when it comes to your future pharma packaging!