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Körber: a pioneer in the transition to plastic free pharma packaging
Körber is able to offer innovative solutions in pharma packaging that minimize the use of plastics for significant advantage in marketing, cost, and sustainability.
Pharma companies face a number of fundamental challenges in parenteral packing, including recent regulation for individual product traceability, preventing tampering and counterfeiting, user friendliness, minimizing volume and weight, robustness in shipping and storage.
A further challenge moving higher up the pharma industry agenda is the use of plastics in packaging, particularly in non-recyclable forms. Reducing presence of plastics in packaging with increased use of paper-based monomaterials can deliver a series of business benefits, particularly in minimizing Total Cost of Package (TCP) and Total Cost of Operation (TCO).
Plastics have provided what seemed like ideal packaging materials for the pharma industry for some 75 years. Their inherent characteristics of robustness, transparency, easy forming, and cheapness provided ready solutions for packaging formats that placed sterile shields around pharma products while leaving them on clear display.
However, all plastics advantages are now coming into question, with the balance of advantages changing under the pressure of environmental and sustainability challenges.
In the first place, plastics are no longer as cheap as they were. They are derived from petroleum, which is a finite resource whose supply is becoming ever less secure. More seriously, plastics are not inherently renewable nor recyclable which means that they present an ever-mounting pollution hazard to the environment, particularly the world’s oceans.
The scale of the problem is illustrated in some key statistics:
- Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide.
- Estimates for how long plastic endures before breaking down range from 450 years to forever. Thus the vast majority of plastics ever made are still present somewhere in the eco-system.
- The average person ingests 70,000 micro-plastic elements each year.
- More than 40% of plastic is used just once, then dumped.
- Around three-quarters of all beach litter worldwide is plastic.
- Plastic is killing more than one million animals every year.
Waiting for a change is no longer an option. That’s why the pharma industry is committing to higher standards of sustainability in its policies, as represented by stated aims among Big Pharma leaders to adopt 5-10 year sustainability programs that at least reduce plastics use. These ambitions include:
- Novartis: plastics neutral (weight of plastic packaging sent for disposal balanced by weight recovered for recycling) by 2030 with a commitment to eliminate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from secondary and tertiary packaging by 2025 and to halve waste disposal from 2016 levels.
- Johnson & Johnson: 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable via design, partnerships, and investments by the year 2025. J&J’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment sets an ambitious 2025 plastics packaging commitment for all its business segments, ranging from making packaging easier to reuse and recycle to integrating green chemistry and engineering into their product development process for pharmaceuticals.
- Novo Nordisk: Zero emissions across the entire value chain by 2045, transforming business processes to eliminate the environmental footprint from their operations, including re-designing existing and future products to reduce waste, emphasizing reuse and recycling of all materials and embedding circular thinking across the value chain in sourcing and procurement.
- Eli Lilly: Goals by 2030 include zero waste to landfill from routine operations, all plastic waste repurposed for beneficial use, with at least 90% recycled or reused, and integrating sustainability-focused design principles into product & packaging design processes. Already, the US-based company identifies where recycled plastic materials are suitable for use in its processes, reduce the generation of plastic waste where possible, and maximize reuse and recycling of plastic waste.
- Merck: Goal to drive improvement in the sustainability of packaging to match their life science leading product sustainability framework, aiming to use as much recycled content as possible and choosing packaging materials to ensure product sterility and protection, while minimizing excess package size, mass, volume and material. Merck has established a packaging sustainability framework to reduce environmental impact and use of non-renewable resources.
Packaging in pharma has huge potential for improvements in sustainability, owing to the high proportion of plastics currently incorporated in packages.
Small volume cartons can be formed from monomaterials (paper and cardboard, which are not only renewable and more easily reused and recycled, but also allow volume and weight reductions with consequent savings across the logistics chain, particularly in sourcing, shipping, storage and cold chain.
The extent of these savings is illustrated by a recent case study involving Sanofi Pasteur, which adopted a monomaterials 10-count syringe carton manufactured and packed on a Dividella NeoTOP 804. This solution, made from 100% recyclable paperboard material, and eliminating pre- made plastic trays and lid material, resulted in savings of more than $1,000,000 annually. Reduction in pack volume of 50% similarly halved expensive cold-chain shipping & storage costs, while the packaging line from Dividella provided four times the throughput of the previous system and doubled OEE to more than 70%. The machine is also configured to package vials, needles and combination packs for other products.
Körber champions 100% monomaterials packaging solutions both for environmental reasons but also for their business benefits in delivering low lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Total Cost of Package (TCP).
Monomaterial packaging has considerable impact on many TCO factors, including material costs, reduction of weight and volume in storage and shipping and simplicity of manufacture.
TCP savings extend onwards into energy cost in packaging installation, particularly for high heating and compressed air demands for film forming and sealing.
In summary, monomaterial packaging benefits include:
- Versatility the same basic packaging format can accept a multitude of drug delivery products (vials, syringes, pens, auto injectors, etc.), including different products in same carton.
- Adaptability: monomaterial packages are easily scalable from for fully automated packaging from small lots to high volumes
- Robustness: Monomaterial packages deliver high product protection with partition blanks supporting, retaining and cushioning products.
- Cheaper: Lower per piece package costs compared to plastic blister
- Space saving: Reduction in overall package volume for lower transport and storage costs and even larger savings in pre-production logistics thanks to ‘flat pack’ package formats
- User friendly: easier to open and reclose than plastic blister packs
- Environmentally friendly: Made from renewable resources with 100% recyclability
- Fully compliant: packaging designs can incorporate tamper evident package sealing and track & trace mechanisms
Körber monomaterial solutions
As a solution provider for the pharmaceutical industry, Körber has for the past decade been gearing its packaging solutions towards resource-saving monomaterial solutions, featuring use of recyclable cartons or compostable sachets derived from renewable biomaterials such as wood, bamboo or fungi.
Thanks to stringent qualification processes, these materials do not compromise functional aspects such as breakage prevention and product protection.
Many of the secondary packaging products that Körber develops and manufactures for its customers, replace plastic elements with paper inlays and paper fiber trays. These materials require less energy to produce than plastic and as a rule are 100% recyclable.
More recently, Körber has been using sustainable materials such as grass paper that is made from renewable raw materials and 100% biodegradable. Grass fiber production takes place purely mechanically without chemical preparation and consumes just half of the cellulose required for paperboard. The result is a significant drop in the need for wood, water and energy, with reductions of around 23% in CO2 emissions.
Regardless of which sustainable packaging solution is chosen, they are all very efficient in industrial usage, being suitable for both sideload and topload packaging processes.
Time for action
Greener supply chains and circular business models are increasingly becoming standard for the pharma industry as sustainability affects marketability. Being on the green curve will enable the industry to adapt and meet its long-term sustainability goals.
The scale of the challenge, as well as increasing environmental imperatives with ever-lower consumer tolerance for plastic packaging, has also underlined the advantages of monomaterial card and paper based parenteral cartoning solutions that are inherently far more cost-effective and sustainable. A monomaterial parenteral carton formed on the Dividella NeoTOP toploading solution can out-perform polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) blister pack and attendant end-load carton.
The content for this article is based on Körber’s recent White Paper ‘Sustainable Secondary Packaging in Pharma’ that identifies the main challenges in parenteral packaging and how to overcome them (see Resources).
Click on Toploading packaging solutions to find out more.
Click on Cartoners for the pharmaceutical and biotech industry for further information.