Sustainability by Design Prevents Packaging Waste

Cradle-to-cradle cycles minimize waste and give new life to used materials.

By Carli Derifield
Director, Global Marketing

The environmental impacts of product packaging and its waste are an issue of growing importance and concern worldwide. All organizations use various quantities of materials and other resources to package their products to survive distribution and other harmful elements. Biopharmaceutical organizations transporting billions of dollars worth of temperature-sensitive products globally on an annual basis are no exception.

According to EPA, yearly municipal solid waste in the United States has increased from 88 million tons in 1960 to 229 million tons in 2001. Containers and packaging made up almost one-third of those 229 million tons. Industry in the United States reportedly creates 7.6 million tons of non hazardous waste each year. Industrial packaging contributes significantly to that figure.

Global regulations to reduce packaging waste have grown. More than 25 countries have environmental packaging design requirements, and 35 have package reporting and advanced disposal fees. The European Union Packaging Directive (EUPD) has established recovery and recycling rates for waste packaging, required reductions in the heavy metal content of packaging, and dictated disposal of packaging waste. Following the enactment of the EUPD, producer responsibility for packaging has gained prominence globally as a key strategy for addressing packaging waste.


Sustainable packaging has become a goalpost of being “green” in the 21st century. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition has outlined criteria for general sustainability objectives. They’ve listed objectives that can mesh with business considerations related to packaging’s life cycle. These objectives cover sourcing, manufacturing, and transporting to maximize the use of renewable or recycled material.

Packaging Pillars

According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, these criteria should be followed to
incorporate sustainability into businesses. The group says sustainable packaging:

• Is beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle.
• Meets market criteria for performance and cost.
• Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy.
• Maximizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
• Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices.
• Is made from materials healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios.
• Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy.
• Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle-to-cradle cycles.


At best, sustainable packaging leaves no footprint—no trace of material creation and processing, transport, and mater ial recycling. To stay green beyond the present, the truly environmentally conscious must focus on sustainable design.


Organizations embrace sustainable design practices for being both environmentally sound and good business. Rather than being legislated into action, leader businesses actively examine their total impact and opportunity as a trigger for increased competitive advantage, creative levers, profitability, and as a tool to increase positive perception and market share.

Cradle-to-cradle cycles represent a fundamental shift from damage-minimization and damage-management strategies to take environmental sensitivity to the next level. When a product returns to industry at the end of its useful life, its materials are used to make equally valuable new products. The raw materials used in its manufacture do not need minimizing because they will not become waste in a landfill. Industry can save billions of dollars annually by recovering valuable materials from used products.


In October 2007, Amgen, Eli Lilly, and EnviroCooler pioneered a global cradle-to-cradle program for EnviroCooler’s BioSphere platform, called the EnviroCooler R-Value Program. It provides an incentive for clients to purchase and return BioSphere components in multiple locations across the globe. Green Partners of the program also receive a discount on all future BioSpheres, which could include components previously in the cradle-to-cradle cycle.

“EnviroCooler has always been ‘green,’ ” says Rod Derifield, EnviroCooler’s CEO. “We have always designed environmentally-conscious cradle-to-grave products that were burned clean for energy at the end of their life cycle. The natural progression for us was to take it to the next level and design cradle-to-cradle programs, where our products or product components can be circulated in closed loops and reused a number of times.”

While the R-Value Program itself is nothing new, it is unique in the world of Bio-Transportation, where biopharmaceutical organizations invest significantly in high-end solutions for the safe and compliant transportation of TSPs. “It really is no different from trading in your computer or old dishwasher,” says Don Wilson, senior manager, engineering, at Amgen Inc. “What ends up happening is the same: You keep the good pieces and reuse them, and you replace the bad.”

Successful alignment projects like this one often require a creative leap of imagination, either in recognizing connections or in finding innovative, effective ways of connecting the dots.

“The dots in this case were that Amgen was spending a lot of money on the BioSphere to transport goods internationally but once they reached their final destination, prematurely they had also reached the end of their life cycle,” says Gary Hutchinson, director, global transportation, Amgen Inc. “From our own testing, we knew the design was more robust. So, we looked for another dot, and that was where and how we could extend the life of the BioSphere and be able to utilize that extended resource at any of our locations across the world, when we need it.”

EnviroCooler’s Global Manufacturing Network has been integral to the successful implementation of the program in four of its five locations since October 2007. Each of the four locations not only manufactures new and replacement components for the BioSphere, but they also act as R-Value Program portals for reentering returned and recertified components into the R-Value Prog ram closed loop for the remainder of its life cycle.

“Projects like this of course present inherent risks initially,” says Paul Harber, associate engineering consultant, Eli Lilly & Co. “But they can also offer dramatic possibilities to unlock existing latent potential for positive change. Innovation and creativity represent some of the most valuable and unlimited resources at our disposal in the quest for a sustainable world.”

The best designers will affirm that they do not set out to solve problems, but rather to create solutions. Great design is therefore an optimistic endeavor.

Carli Derifield joined EnviroCooler as its first director of marketing in 2006. Her MSc in Oceanography and her 12 years of experience within the pharmaceutical, supply automation, and consulting industries across Europe, Australia, and the United States has aided the promotion of EnviroCooler’s approach as a bio-pharma shipping solution.

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