Going Green, But Only If It Is Cheaper

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Percentages on PVC alternatives: More than half won’t drop PVC unless they can save.
(click image to enlarge)
Pharmaceutical and medical device packagers generally seem interested in sustainability, but only if the price is right. Respondents to two polls during PMP News’s exclusive Webcast, “Sustainability 101: Beyond Recycling—Sustainability in a Material World,” shared that some changes to packaging projects will be made to achieve some level of sustainability. However, they also expressed a general unwillingness to pay more for certain changes.
 
Peter Schmitt, managing director, Montesino Associates, led the Webcast, explaining, “we need to [achieve sustainability] at ever-decreasing costs and be conscious of the fact that costs are a major driver in healthcare packaging.”
 
When asked what percentage of current components and projects will be modified toward more-sustainable solutions within the next five years, about 50% reported that at least 25% of their projects will be changed. Just under 9% will be converting 75–100% of their packaging projects into sustainable solutions. Only a slim majority will be going greener, with just 41.3% of respondents changing less than 25%.
 
“Sustainability is important, and there are only good messages in going green as we often hear negative feedback when our packaging is not perceived to be so. Generally speaking, going green may yield a reduction in total packaging cost, which is for the manufacturer, too,” said Rich Hollander, senior director, packaging services, for Pfizer Global Manufacturing. He addressed audience questions along with Thomas Pack of Global Pharmaceutical Supply Group, Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals. “In the 17 years I have been in packaging, I have seen significant improvements in source reduction. It is in our subconscious as we design packages these days,” Hollander said. “Changes have typically been in secondary and tertiary packaging, rather than primary packaging.”
 
However, “People are not purchasing our products because of packaging,” explained Pack. “All our materials go through an elaborate evaluation against our global packaging design guide, and we look at all environmental aspects and make the best decisions we can.”
 
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Percentage of packaging projects to be made more sustainable in next five years.
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When asked about replacing PVC, a material that has been targeted by environmental groups, respondents revealed somewhat restrained interest in dropping it. For instance, 55.2% are interested only if cost is equal to or lower than current costs. Only 5.2% are willing to pay up to 20%. Cost is not the main issue for 23.6% of poll respondents; the real driver is performance on existing equipment. Slightly more than 10% said they are not interested in moving out of PVC.
 
“PVC is one of the materials that requires the least amount of energy to be produced,” said Schmitt. “It requires the least amount of energy to be converted.” Rigid PVC, which is often used for blister packages, does not contain plasticizers. Flexible PVC, often used for blood bags, often contains DEHP and can face incineration issues as part of the waste stream, so there are questions about toxicity, he added. “In rigid packaging, PVC looks to be a fairly sustainable material.”
 
During the question-and-answer period, one attendee responded to Schmitt’s comments about rigid PVC being sustainable. He asked why the audience was polled about moving out of PVC.
 
Pack characterized industry concerns over PVC. “Companies like J&J have been targeted by Greenpeace and others to get out of PVC. Maybe it is more perception than reality.”
 
Hollander asked, “Why wouldn’t it cost less to get out of PVC? Why aren’t we driving our supply base toward materials that are less expensive and more environmentally friendly than PVC?”
 
Addressing a question about cost, Hollander said, “Going green often implies that there is an increased cost when focusing on primary packaging, and perhaps that is true at the onset, but it doesn’t have to be long term. There has to be a win-win [from a green perspective] and from a value proposition perspective. In fast-moving consumer goods, where the package helps sell the product, you can market [sustainability] and create a value proposition. It is very hard to find that value proposition in pharmaceutical packaging. The value in our products is in their therapeutic value, not necessarily in the packaging.”
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