Sustainability: Packaging Suppliers Step Up

"Sustainability has become an important issue for many pharmaceutical companies," says Gene Dul, President Schreiner MediPharm L.P. "Sustainable product design considers all the lifecycles of a product, from production to the use of the product and all the way to disposal or recycling. In general, it is crucial that all stakeholders are committed to sustainability, i.e. customers, employees, shareholders, business partners and suppliers as well as the social environment. Only if all stakeholders that are directly or indirectly involved are convinced of the necessity and benefit of sustainability efforts, they fully support the processes involved."

"More than half of our pharmaceutical clients have inquired about, or require, sustainability programs," reports Kevin Kenjarski, vice president of sales, Keller Crescent Co. "We are also receiving more requests for recycled board grades from many of our clients. This high level of interest has prompted us to include details about our commitment to sustainability in presentations to new and potential clients."

“What has changed is that so many more companies are embracing sustainability,” says Patty Enneking of Klöckner Pentaplast. “So many more are concerned about improving their packaging environmentally.”

Customer requests have varied. Klöckner Pentaplast has developed initial sustainability platforms for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, which entails building an environmental footprint of their packaging processes. In addition, “we have done quite a bit of modeling for material comparisons to offer suggestions for downgauging,” she explains.

In terms of packaging design, Keller Crescent reduces "the waste in carton size by re-engineering to a smaller carton with less air space" and has increased its "use of petroleum-free and soy-based inks to decrease the environmental impact of its packaging," explains Kenjarski. It also uses a "reusable shipping tote, which eliminates corrugated ship cases and wooden pallets.

When it comes to enacting a sustainability program for packaging and related processes, it is all about continuous improvement, reports Gerald Rebitzer, sustainability leader for Amcor Flexibles Europe & Americas (Switzerland). "It involves measuring what you do and setting new targets."

Amcor helped Procter & Gamble do just that when it participated in the development of P&G’s Supplier Environmental Sustainability Scorecard. According to P&G, "The new scorecard will assess P&G suppliers’ environmental footprint and encourage continued improvement by measuring energy use, water use, waste disposal, and greenhouse gas emissions on a year-to-year basis." P&G presented the scorecard system in May as a potential "foundation for an industry standard" that could be used "by any organization to help promote a working discussion and determine common supply chain evaluation processes across all industries," the company describes on its site. P&G worked with more than 20 leading supplier representatives from its global supply chain, using measurement standards in protocols from the World Resources Institute, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Amcor has been working to improve its own environmental footprint in terms of internal processes, such as reducing green house gas emissions, water consumption, and waste reduction. The firm is also optimizing the footprints of its products, looking at alternative materials, design, and processes.

Keller Crescent’s six manufacturing facilities recycle paperboard waste from the conversion process back to the board mills, Kenjarski reports. And at the corporate level as a member of the Clondalkin Group, Keller Crescent "is charged to be ever mindful of the impact its processes have on the environment," he adds.

Schreiner's production sites in Germany have been certified according to ISO 14001 since 1997 and the U.S. site, Schreiner MediPharm L.P. which was set up in 2008 has been successfully audited and certified since October 2009. Says Dul: "Sustainability covers a lot of aspects of course, but to mention only a few examples: Raw, auxiliary, and operating materials comply with stringent statutory as well as customer requirements. Avoidance of waste materials plays a major role as well, since careful use of raw materials avoids pollution, conserves resources, and reduces costs. Product development and production is aligned with eco- and OHS-conformant aspects. Sustainable product design considers all the lifecycles of a product, from production to the use of the product and all the way to disposal or recycling."

Anderson Packaging’s Lean Six Sigma program and Continuous Improvement efforts have had susbstantial impacts on reducing waste including energy usage and waste disposal as well as increasing batch yields that ultimately reduce its environmental footprint, reports Justin Schroeder, director, marketing & business development.

Neopac, too, has begun its preparation for the critical ISO 14001 certification. "Our ISO 14001 certification is planned for May 2011 and we have just designated an Environmental Manager in-house to spearhead this effort," reports Richard Misdom, Sales Manager, Neopac. "More and more customers are asking for 'green tubes.'  So we continue to develop new ways to make our products more ‘green-friendly.' In building our own sustainability programs, we’ve found it difficult to determine what the market really needs/wants because there are so many different ways to approach sustainability. I think the most important thing is to participate in as many discussion as you can to educate yourself on the different options available and the many different ways you can make not only your products, but also your organization, more sustainable. Participate in roundtables and webinars, so that you can best figure out what’s right for your business."

The pharmaceutical and medical device industries are conservative, though, so instituting new "greener" materials could be a bit unsettling. "The food industry thought that compostable films would be the route to take, but it didn’t want to reduce shelf life, so it got complicated. So there is no silver bullet," says Rebitzer. "Especially for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry."

Teri Meadow and Jane Severin of Oliver-Tolas Healthcare Packaging see needs "for solving issues with segregation and disposal within healthcare facilities. "But perhaps most importantly, the infrastructure to support recycling is not in place in the United States, limiting the impact of many sustainability efforts."

Adds Dul: "Hospitals and pharmacies should be aware of the fact that they play an important role in the supply chain when it comes to sourcing pharmaceutical products that are eco-friendly. Eco-conscious product solutions that save material and packaging should be their preferred choice to support sustainability efforts." For instance, Dul says that Schreiner MediPharm's Needle-Trap offers a compact label-integrated needle protection system for prefilled syringes that requires less material than conventional safety systems.

Consequently, materials that offer process or design improvements seem to hold the most hope. "Thinner materials or materials that can produce more cavities in the same amount of space seem to hold the most promise," Rebitzer says. He points to the work Alcan Packaging, since acquired by Amcor, did for P&G’s Prilosec foil blister in which use of a new foil lamination enabled the package to hold double the number of tablets in the same size blister. "It decreased packaging by 50%," he says.

When considering new materials, common questions from customers include whether they can process new materials on existing equipment and whether they will get the same barrier performance, Daniel Stagnaro of Klöckner Pentaplast explains. “These questions are why we pursued Pentapharm kpVantage, our new polyester barrier film that can be used on existing forming equipment, offering what we call drop-in barrier.”

In addition, product manufacturers should ensure that packaging performance is not compromised. "Performance is key. If you compromise performance, you could be faced with a shorter shelf life," Rebitzer adds. You don’t want to do that, because the product frequently has a larger environmental footprint than does the package."

“You also must look at product spoilage and transportation costs and at local versus regional supply,” adds Justin Glass of Klöckner Pentaplast. “Downgauging may not always be the answer, because in some cases it could lead to product damage, which damages a sustainability platform in terms of actual product loss. So the industry is learning to focus on the total value chain.”

Drug and device manufacturers want to consider actual data when making their decisions, which helps them “avoid costly mistakes,” Enneking says. “There are a number of ways to improve an environmental footprint, but you need to look at the bigger picture. You can make material modifications, reduce energy use, and recycle in-house waste, among other things.”

And the trend toward sustainability "will keep growing, so don’t ignore it," advises Meadow and Severin of Oliver-Tolas Healthcare Packaging, which has been preparing data on its products and processes to provide to customers for scorecards.

But change is slow. “This is pharma—the smallest change takes two years,” adds Stagnaro. "This is heavy stuff."
In general, one benefit from moving slowly is that companies can learn from changes instituted by other companies, says Enneking.

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