How will rising demand for mono-material packaging affect pharma?

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The pharma industry has been facing increasing pressure in recent years to adopt eco-friendly practices without compromising product safety or efficacy. No longer just a buzzword, sustainability has become an important consideration for driving decision-making in the pharma industry.

This is where the transition to mono-material packaging has emerged as a transformative solution of turning away from traditional multi-layered packaging structures towards designs composed of a single material type, such as polyethylene (PE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

This simplicity in composition not only enhances recyclability, but also streamlines the recycling process, reducing environmental impact and promoting circularity.

In this article, I explore what this shift to mono-material packaging will mean for the pharma sector as well as what challenges the industry will face.

Sustainability by design

As the global focus on sustainability intensifies, both consumers and regulatory bodies are placing greater emphasis on environmentally friendly practices across industries. In response, pharmaceutical companies are facing mounting pressure to adapt and innovate, particularly in their packaging strategies.

Sustainability by Design (SbD) entails a holistic approach that considers environmental, social, and economic factors throughout the entire lifecycle of a product, from sourcing raw materials to end-of-life disposal. This is an important facet of Origin’s own design process, whereby our packaging technologists take a cyclical approach and prioritise minimal material wastage.

Part of this includes the adoption of more mono-material packaging solutions where appropriate. By opting for packaging composed of a single material type, typically plastic, that is easily recyclable or biodegradable, pharmaceutical companies can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to the global effort to mitigate environmental degradation.

Mono-material packaging also aligns with the principles of circular economy, where materials are reused, recycled, or repurposed to minimise waste and maximise resource efficiency. This approach not only reduces the environmental impact of packaging, but also fosters a sustainable supply chain ecosystem, which is increasingly valued by environmentally-conscious consumers.

By prioritising sustainable materials, optimising packaging design for recyclability and reusability, and adopting eco-friendly manufacturing processes, pharma companies can lower their environmental impact while maintaining product integrity and safety.

Supply chain optimisation

Supply chain optimisation is a critical aspect of modern business operations, and the transition to mono-material packaging presents pharmaceutical companies with significant opportunities in this regard.

Firstly, by standardising packaging materials to a single type, companies can reduce material costs through bulk purchasing and simplified procurement processes. This reduction in material variability also facilitates streamlined inventory management, as companies can maintain fewer SKUs (stock-keeping units) and minimise the risk of excess or obsolete inventory.

Furthermore, the uniformity of mono-material packaging contributes to enhanced transportation efficiency. Standardised packaging dimensions and weight characteristics enable more efficient loading and transportation, reducing shipping costs and minimising the environmental impact associated with transportation emissions.

Pharmaceutical companies can leverage these opportunities to drive cost savings and improve overall sustainability performance across their supply chains through minimising waste generation and resource consumption throughout the supply chain lifecycle.

Regulatory compliance

Despite the environmental and financial benefits of switching to mono-material packaging, this is not always so straightforward for pharmaceutical products. Quality and safety must remain the top considerations in medicinal packaging design, even ahead of sustainability.

Regulatory compliance is paramount in the pharmaceutical industry. Stringent regulations govern every aspect of pharmaceutical packaging, so companies must ensure that their packaging materials and designs adhere to existing standards, while also developing new protocols to meet evolving requirements.

One of the primary challenges associated with mono-material pharma packaging is ensuring compliance with crucial safety regulations, particularly those concerning child safety and tamper resistance. These regulations are designed to protect consumers and uphold the integrity of pharmaceutical products, making adherence to them non-negotiable.

Moreover, another critical consideration is maintaining adequate barrier properties in mono-material packaging. Traditional multi-layered packaging often incorporates specific barrier functionalities to protect pharmaceutical products from external factors such as moisture, light, and oxygen.

Transitioning to mono-material solutions requires meticulous attention to detail to ensure that the new packaging maintains comparable barrier properties without compromising product safety or efficacy. In some cases, mono-material packaging may simply not be suitable compared to traditional multi-layer packaging solutions.

Innovation and collaboration

Pharmaceutical companies can catalyse partnerships with packaging suppliers, technology providers, and research institutions. These collaborative efforts harness the collective expertise of diverse stakeholders to develop cutting-edge solutions that prioritise patient safety, product integrity, and environmental sustainability.

Mono-material packaging collaborations are certainly something we’re seeing more frequently across all industries, including food and beverages. Swedish dairy company Skånemejerier recently partnered with Mondi to develop a mono-material polypropylene-based packaging for its cheese products. The packaging not only meets stringent food preservation requirements, but is also fully recyclable.

The same can be replicated across the pharmaceutical industry, where these partnerships enable the co-creation of packaging solutions that seamlessly integrate with pharmaceutical products while meeting the stringent regulatory requirements of the industry.

In taking a more collaborative approach, companies can leverage advanced materials, manufacturing processes and design principles to optimise packaging performance and enhance user experience.

Consumer education and engagement

The market for sustainable pharmaceutical packaging is growing, and is projected to reach $146.3 billion by 2027. Increasing consumer demand for sustainable packaging is a driving factor for the rise in market share, as consumers become more environmentally conscious and seek products aligned with their values.

However, the industry needs continual and consistent consumer engagement in order to drive the widespread adoption of mono-material packaging within the pharmaceutical industry. This means educating consumers and helping them understand the environmental benefits of mono-material packaging, such as reduced waste and improved recyclability.

Pharmaceutical companies can do so by providing consumers with transparent information about their packaging choices and sustainability initiatives. Through clear labelling, informative product packaging, and educational campaigns companies can help consumers better understand the environmental implications of their purchasing decisions.

Additionally, by offering guidance on proper recycling practices and disposal methods, pharma companies can encourage responsible consumption and waste management among consumers, contributing to a more sustainable future for everyone.

Steve Brownett Gale
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Steve Brownett-Gale
21 March, 2024