Assessing Options for OTCs

Marketers are considering green packaging alternatives.

By David Vaczek
Senior Editor
Oracle’s Extend- A-Print labels relay valuable information in a small space, reducing packaging needs.

The challenges of packaging over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals are many. While OTC drug marketers have pursued innovative designs and incorporated enhanced packaging elements, prevailing trends may conspire to narrow choices in package materials and formats.

Designs employing trays and distinctive secondary packages have been used to promote product branding and shelf presence, besides providing space for expanded labeling.

Yet programs by manufacturers and retailers are emphasizing package minimization as a means to reduce costs and also conform with growing expectations for packaging that meets sustainability criteria.

Just as industry has largely accomplished the task of accommodating Drug Facts panels onto packages, new labeling guidelines are pending that will most likely require more readable space and potentially larger packages.

Resource-conserving materials can add complexity to OTC drug package choices. The cost of some component alternatives has been an obstacle to packagers that are assessing earth-friendly materials, according to converters. Also, recycled materials may affect package look and functionality. Materials traceability could be an issue with some recycled-content options. In addition, packaging choices often present environmental trade-offs, which companies and organizations promoting sustainability practices will need to further investigate and define.

On the other hand, marketers who are cognizant of rising consumer eco-awareness may elect to employ recycled and recyclable materials to convey an earth-friendly stance for their product and company.

“Packaging that supports sustain­able use of resources helps cultivate a positive emotional connection to the brand,” says Dennis Bacchetta, director of marketing, Diamond Packaging (Rochester, NY).

Companies in many industries are exploring the potential of sustainable packaging and practices. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC; Charlottesville, VA) is a working group with a broad membership roster. It counts among its members Abbott, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Klöckner Pentaplast, DuPont, Alcoa, Meadwestvaco, Stora Enso, and Alcan Packaging.


See Sidebar: Despite Sustainability Initiatives, Still More Labeling Space Needed

Johnson & Johnson’s Healthy Planet 2010 initiative has set goals for use of postconsumer recycled content in paper packaging and has targeted the elimination of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging. J&J paper procurement guidelines promote responsible forestry.

Wal-Mart’s Packaging Scorecard has motivated its suppliers to consider re­source conservation alternatives, converters report. In promoting the chain’s goal of reducing packaging by 5% by 2013, the scorecard is meant to help suppliers assess progress in areas such as package reduction, use of recycled content and recoverable materials, use of pallet and shipping container space, and development of transport efficiencies.

“Wal-Mart’s Packaging Scorecard tool has helped put the concept of sustainable packaging in the forefront of many companies’ and consumers’ minds and thus has been a key driver [for companies] trying to understand what sustainability truly is. Several OTC and personal care accounts have re­quested information on our experience with the Scorecard tool and on our efforts to design more eco-friendly packaging,” says Bacchetta.

Wal-Mart views the scorecard as “evergreen,” or evolving. The category data against which packaging is measured will change as more-accurate data become available. Since the scorecard’s launch last year, the approach has changed on the material health and safety measure, which accounts for 15% of the score. Materials are currently all ranked the same, rather than most and least preferred on a 1-to-3 scale, the approach used at the outset. Once actual data become available, the scorecard will be updated.

In another area of package measurement, for example, the chain will be updating data received from material trade associations on CO2 emissions in material production. In its FAQ document on the scorecard, Wal-Mart says the scorecard should not be used to make design or purchasing decisions until data have been finalized after February 2008, to accommodate the metrics work still in progress.

Patricia Enneking, director of global sustainability and environmental affairs, Klöckner Pentaplast (Gordonsville, VA), says material alternatives have to be weighed based on their performance across their life cycle. A material may rank high in one area, such as energy used in production, but low in another, such as in greenhouse gas emissions. Enneking says that sustainability is a relatively new concept for companies in the United States.

“It’s a complicated topic, yet buyers and suppliers have to become instant sustainability experts,” Enneking says. “Many believe that if a package is made from a renewable resource or has a high recycling rate, it is probably more sustainable. But most are unsure what qualifies a package as sustainable. Often perception does not comport with reality.”

For example, a heavy-weight mate­rial with a high recycling rate may generate higher discards to landfill and use far more energy in its manufacture than the same product packaged in a light-weight material that isn’t re­cycled. Material such as PVC (57% of which is derived from salt) uses considerably less energy in its manufacture and generates far less CO2 emissions than other plastics composed of 100% fossil fuels, Enneking says.

“It is important to look at the facts to effectively evaluate materials,” she says.

Packaging suppliers have launched programs to help customers assess packaging choices from an environmental standpoint. Though their customers are actively exploring alternatives, they have not rushed into new materials and packaging formats.

“There is a lot of discussion about package material reduction, but we have seen little action by customers,” says Des Laffan, director, business development for MPS Healthcare, formerly John Henry Packaging (Greensboro, NC).

“We are seeing continued movement in branded OTC toward more-sophisticated packaging, with the use of specialty coatings, laminations, and embossing/debossing features that help protect a brand from attack from lower-cost generics,” Laffan adds.

Laffan says that customers in some instances have moved out of plastic packaging.

“Customers to an increasing extent are converting from nonrecyclable packaging materials, such as [some] plastic containers and clamshells, to recyclable options. However, the use of recycled materials in packaging is tricky when it comes to paperboard. Some research shows that significant movement to recycled materials, to the scale proposed by Wal-Mart, cannot be supported due to the eventual shortage of feedstock supply. It simply may not be a sustainable system,” he says.

MPS addresses environmental solutions with an ecosystem approach that considers sustainable forestry, earth-friendly materials, materials savings, improved air quality, waste reduction, and energy conservation. Options include the use of earth-friendly mate­rials in multimedia and consumer packaging, says Laffan.

“MPS is working very aggressively on green packaging for all of our market disciplines. The media market is the bigger driver of our R&D investments, but our healthcare customers will benefit from some of the solutions we’re bringing to market, which will help them comply with Wal-Mart’s initiatives,” Laffan says.

“Our green product line includes material options that reduce materials usage, incorporate recycled materials, and eliminate plastic. Complementing the green product line are earth-friendly inks, coatings, and printing technologies and responsible manufacturing practices,” he adds.

Laffan says that MPS solutions include recycled paper and paperboard that incorporates up to 100% postconsumer waste, biodegradable soy-based inks, and UV coating and digital printing technologies that limit or eliminate emission of volatile organic compounds. All-paperboard packaging formats such as trays and paperboard sleeves made from renewable materials offer alternatives to plastics.

Shorewood Packaging (New York City), a business unit of SPC-member International Paper, has launched greenchoice Environmental Solutions to inform companies on packaging and paperboard display choices. After analysis of current packaging, recommendations are made in areas such as materials, inks and coatings, and for supply-chain improvements aimed at minimizing a product’s life cycle “carbon footprint.” The greenchoice solutions meet criteria defined by SPC and the “Seven Rs” of sustainable packaging set forth by Wal-Mart, says Linda Lombri, director, marketing services, Shorewood Packaging.

“Our customers virtually across the board have sought information about the program. We have made presen­tations to more than 50 customers in recent months,” says Lombri.

“We are not saying there is one way to do it. Sustainability is a large, com­plicated issue, on which there is still a lot to be learned; greenchoice provides a framework for evaluating options. We work with customers to provide choices for possible solutions,” she adds.

Diamond Packaging has developed the Diamond Greenbox initiative to address environmental concerns through all package life-cycle phases. Sustainability is promoted in design, material selection, best plant-level practices, and production. The initiative has provided benefits including increased production efficiency, minimized waste, and reduced shipping costs, Bacchetta says.

“Greenbox promotes the development of innovative packaging that balances business with environmental considerations. Reducing packaging weight offers the most significant op­portunity to conserve raw materials and energy, reduce greenhouse gases, and minimize discards. The weight-reduction benefits of light-weight ma­terials more than offsets the far higher recycling rates of heavier packaging materials,” he says.


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