On the path toward sustainability

Daphne Allen

December 31, 2015

7 Min Read
On the path toward sustainability

Pharmaceutical and medical packaging professionals are finding new ways to help the supply chain reduce and recycle packaging waste.

Sustainability has become a priority for many companies throughout the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Pat Bartholomew, Director, Environment, Health and Safety, at Baxter, tells PMP News: “Product environmental performance is an issue of growing importance in the healthcare sector, including the responsible treatment of healthcare products at the end of their useful life. Because the appropriate approach varies by type of product, companies can have a range of initiatives.

“For example, at Baxter, some of the electronic medical devices the company sells can be repaired and refurbished. Other products, such as intravenous (IV) bags, cannot be reused due to regulatory, quality, and safety reasons. However, they may be responsibly recycled to recover energy and materials for other uses.”

Therefore it’s no coincidence that many winners in this year’s AmeriStar awards program have achieved some measure of sustainability. IoPP’s AmeriStar winners this year have reduced package weight and footprint and have increased the use of recyclable materials, among other accomplishments. For instance, Ecoslide-RX from Keystone Folding Box Co., which won in the Drug & Pharmaceutical category, contains no plastic in its secondary packaging and requires minimal film and foil, Keystone reports. Dividella’s NeoTop top-load syringe carton for Sanofi Pasteur’s flu vaccine franchise is made from 100% recyclable paperboard material. A reduction in volume cut shipping and storage costs in half.

And in AmeriStar’s medical device packaging category, winners included the TKA Femoral Packaging System for Arthrex from Perfecseal and the CardioFocus HeartLight Cardiac Ablation System Balloon Catheter Die-Cut Tray by Beacon Converters Inc. For Arthrex, Perfecseal employed its new PerfecForm OrthoSecure, a new material combining both polyurethane and PETG in one two-layer formable film, instead of using a separate PU insert, reducing the number of packaging components. For CardioFocus, Beacon developed a die-cut tray made from 100% recyclable HDPE that uses 32% less packaging material and weighs 50% less than a thermoformed tray.

Packaging professionals are demonstrating they are key partners in sustainability. “Packaging teams are being called to help reduce energy consumption, material usage, and costs throughout the entire life cycle of the package without sacrificing the performance of their packaging,” explains Matt L. Doornink, packaging engineer/project manager for DDL Inc. “Although packaging is only a part of a product’s overall carbon footprint, it is often the most visible. Once a package has fulfilled its purpose, it is often found filling space in the environment.”

Manufacturers of life-saving products continue to proceed conservatively, however. “Medical device companies are struggling to create opportunities for sustainable practices as their paramount objective is to produce a quality, reliable, and effective product 100% of the time; and to deliver it to the end user in that same condition 100% of the time,” adds Pat Nolan, DDL’s president. “With this objective, MDMs will use whatever materials and processes necessary to ensure the products’ efficacy. However, sustainable practices are being used to reduce packaging materials through downgauging, using plastic materials that are more sustainable in their manufacture and use of raw materials, and optimizing the package design with sustainability in mind at the start.”

Supply-chain partners are eager for assistance with packaging waste. “Medical device packaging waste is a big problem for hospitals and clinics. Packaging waste for hospitals is a big cost to dispose of,” notes Nolan. While “some of the waste is considered infectious and must be disposed of properly through incineration, most of the medical waste is non-infectious. This packaging waste is often placed in regular trash bins and is land filled. There are few systems for recovering the medical device packaging waste for reuse or recycling. Some devices may lend themselves to be packaged in reusable packages. MDMs can develop closed loop systems to facilitate reclamation. Hospitals can request package materials that are more recyclable with training on the materials that can be segregated into special bins.”

Groups such as Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (www.hprc.org.) and PracticeGreenhealth are stepping up to help hospitals and practitioners tackle waste, but they need help from healthcare products manufacturers. Medical device manufacturers in particular are getting direct requests from U.S. hospitals to help them reduce, reuse, recycle, or divert waste, reports Roseann Salasin, global marketing director, DuPont Medical and Pharmaceutical Protection, a company among HPRC’s founding members. The driver behind interest is regulation, she says. “Certain counties are restricting the amount of waste that can go to landfills,” she says.

HPRC continues to move forward with several initiatives to increase plastics recycling in hospitals, including plastic packaging. The group has organized pilots, developed guidelines to help product and package designers improve recyclability of disposable plastic products, and recently released a recycling tutorial for hospitals. HPRC members include Baxter, BD, Cardinal Health, Covidien, DuPont, Eastman, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, Perfecseal, and SABIC.

Baxter reports that it is training its product engineers on HPRC’s Design for Recycling Guidelines. “Each HPRC member company is implementing them in various ways,” Bartholomew says.

“Companies can seek other opportunities to partner with waste management and recycling firms to test the economic and logistical feasibility of more efficient management of wastes generated from hospital products,” she adds. “This includes value stream mapping of hospital wastes to identify where and how the waste is generated.”

To increase awareness of the potential for plastics recycling, HPRC recently presented its hospital tutorial, HospiCycle, at CleanMed 2013, generating a lot of interest among hospital professionals, reports Salasin. “Recycling is now moving from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-do,’ ” says Salasin. “We are also seeing efforts to monetize recycling. Hospitals are asking for help on what to do and how to get started.”

HospiCycle was developed with the help of HPRC’s Healthcare Facility Advisory Board, whose members, Kaiser Permanente and Stanford University Medical Center, contributed data, lessons learned, and insight from plastic recycling pilot studies carried out at their facilities. It was also based on findings from an early HPRC pilot study involving Cleveland Clinic, Engineered Plastics, and Waste Management. The tutorial helps hospitals begin to identify recyclable plastic waste, assess existing infrastructure to support recycling programs, look for recycling partners, and develop and audit recycling programs, among other activities.

Another HPRC-organized pilot study set to wrap up shortly with Stanford will provide further guidance. Tod Christenson, HPRC’s executive director, says that this pilot is enabling HPRC to identify the types and volumes of plastics that are typically seen in ten different areas of the hospital in order to understand the opportunities for plastics recycling. “We set out to identify points of aggregation and collection or interception,” he says. “This pilot demonstrates several considerations that must be made when managing waste and ordering supplies. It helps illustrate the variety of factors needing consideration when designing a plastics recycling program such as which departments represent the greatest opportunities, building/space logistic needs, internal stakeholder engagement requirements, union participation, hospital aesthetics, etc., that hospital professionals must consider.” 

According to Christenson, the pilot identified more than 70 tons per year of plastic currently generated by Stanford’s main operating room and eight other departments that have the potential to be diverted to the recycling stream, representing a 29% diversion rate. About 85% of such plastic is flexible, and about 15% is rigid.

In addition to helping Stanford with its own programs, the pilot will enable "HPRC to use such data to develop an additional worksheet for HospiCycle that can help other hospitals establish targets and goals," says Christenson. "We will also be able to make recommendations for hospitals on where to start and what to pursue as well as how to train employees, raise awareness, and monitor progress."

Hospitals are also beginning to look for ways to “monetize sustainability,” Salasin adds. “Sustainability has a positive impact on business profitability because the money spent on waste can be reduced. There are a number of ways to measure it, in terms of costs and space. The ultimate goal is to show the positive bottom line impact to business.”

Christenson agrees, and he believes that pilot programs such as Stanford’s will help HPRC develop data on the actual costs behind traditional waste disposal versus diversion to recycling streams. “It will help us flesh out the business costs and show hospitals the disposal costs that wouldn’t be incurred if waste were to be diverted,” he says.

Salasin will present HPRC’s programs at the upcoming Healthcare Packaging Immersion Experience (https://www.msu.edu/~hcpie/index.html) organized by Michigan State University’s School of Packaging. This event allows the audience to experience how their packaging impacts the clinician’s ability to provide care to the patient. This year, MSU is extending the experience to also include the impact of packaging waste and respective issues clinicians face with the intent to engage industry to help.

About the Author(s)

Daphne Allen

Daphne Allen is editor-in-chief of Design News. She previously served as editor-in-chief of MD+DI and of Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News and also served as an editor for Packaging Digest. Daphne has covered design, manufacturing, materials, packaging, labeling, and regulatory issues for more than 20 years. She has also presented on these topics in several webinars and conferences, most recently discussing design and engineering trends at IME West 2024 and leading an Industry ShopTalk discussion during the show on artificial intelligence.

Follow Daphne on X at @daphneallen and reach her at [email protected].

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