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What does Amcor’s sustainability pledge mean for pharma and medtech?

What does Amcor’s sustainability pledge mean for pharma and medtech?
Melinda de Boer, director of external communications for Amcor

This January Amcor pledged to develop all its packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2025. The company has also committed to increasing its use of recycled materials and to driving more global package recycling.

"Our aspiration is to be the leading global packaging company," said Ron Delia, Amcor's chief executive officer, in a company statement. "That means winning on behalf of the environment, customers, consumers, shareholders and our people at the same time, in ways that differentiate Amcor and generate growth." 

Amcor is among brands and retail companies making the same 2025 commitment in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). "Amcor being the first global packaging company to commit to working toward 100-percent recyclable or reusable packaging by 2025 is an important milestone towards creating a circular economy for plastics," said Rob Opsomer, who leads EMF's Systemic Initiatives.

So what does Amcor’s commitment mean for pharmaceutical and medical device packaging professionals? PMP News asked Melinda de Boer, director of external communications for Amcor’s head office in Zurich, a few questions about the impact.

PMP News: Can you offer some examples of certain materials and containers from Amcor for pharma or medical applications that are already recyclable or reusable?

de Boer: Independent tests run by Cyclos-HTP confirm that our pharmaceutical Formpack blisters with high-barrier properties are recyclable in certain markets. The tests showed that the Formpack blisters are detected by the eddy current as aluminum and are then discharged in the aluminum stream and subsequently recycled by pyrolysis.

Collection- and recycling-systems for aluminum-based packaging exist today in Germany and The Netherlands, recovering aluminum-containing packaging from household waste. Implementation of collection and recycling for small size aluminum-based packaging is also taking place in France (Project Metal from CELAA) and Belgium (Project Areme from Alienor EU).

And a high share of medical packaging can be easily recycled already today with actual recycling depending on the specific collection system in hospitals.

PMP News: For materials or containers from Amcor used for medical or pharmaceutical packaging that are not recyclable or reusable, what changes would be made to make them recyclable or reusable?

de Boer: Across the entire Amcor business, most of our packaging is already designed to be recyclable or reusable. In some parts of our business the rate is more than 90 percent; in others, it is more than one-half and growing. The rate varies based on things like customer requirements, contents of the package, and currently available materials and technologies.

For our pharma packaging, more than two-thirds is already designed to be recyclable or reusable (e.g., Formpack Blister + PTF portfolio). Packaging that is not already recyclable includes plastic pharma blisters with PVC/Halogen based polymers with aluminum push-through foil. With no current post-consumer sorting and recycling stream for this format in any country, design-for-recycling innovation will be required in this area. Another possibility might be to use chemical recycling in the future, which could be an option for recycling materials that are not compatible with the established mechanical recycling systems.

PMP News: How would barrier be achieved?

de Boer: We have already achieved high barrier Formpack blisters which are recyclable. 

PMP News: Are there multiple-layer or multiple-polymer or polymer/foil combinations (such as blister packaging) that could be modified to be recyclable or reusable? 

de Boer: Multilayer polymer/aluminum combinations are already being recycled in the aluminum stream via pyrolysis. A minimum of 30 percent per weight of aluminum is needed for the pyrolysis recycling process to be environmentally and economically viable. A combination of chemically compatible different plastics, like PE and PP, are already being collected, sorted and recycled together. For other plastic packaging materials, we’re working on projects to simplify the material structure focusing on only using polymers that are jointly compatible for recycling.

PMP News: Will Amcor help customers redesign their packaging to make it recyclable or reusable?

de Boer: Yes, for sure. Many of customers have made similar commitments, in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and most have identified recycling and reusability as an issue and opportunity. The packaging we develop and make must meet the highly functional requirements of customers, the regulations they follow, and the consumers they serve. Collaboration is essential to understanding and delivering to customer needs, and will be even more important as we imagine and develop what is possible for the future.

PMP News: Will new materials or formats be needed?

de Boer: Yes, and our 2025 pledge gives Amcor people, customers, partners, and others an ambitious target that taps into and inspires even more innovation. New recycling processes will also be needed and here we are working with our partners on several projects to also open up new opportunities.

PMP News: Is Amcor working with any other suppliers, equipment manufacturers, or service companies to support new recyclable or reusable options?

de Boer: We are a lead participant in initiatives that bring together customers, suppliers, peers, government agencies, and NGOs to encourage development of efficient systems and infrastructure for collecting, sorting and recycling of packaging. Amcor is a leader generally in collaborative efforts to increase recycling of packaging.

We are the only packaging company that is a core partner in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. As a member of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance, through which we actively contribute to efforts to recapture, reuse, and recycle plastic packaging, and we’re active in regional initiatives to increase recycling rates, including CEFLEX in Europe, and Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), and The Recycling Partnership in the United States. With CEFLEX and MRFF, we are working toward improved recycling rates for flexible packaging; through the Recycling Partnership we are helping to improve access to recycling.

Amcor will be exhibiting at MD&M West 2018 (February 6-8; Anaheim, CA) Booth #2835. 

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