What Do Hospital Buyers Think about Packaging Waste?

PMP News asked Gina Pugliese, RN, MS, vice president of Premier’s Safety Institute, a few questions pertaining to packaging sustainability.

Is reducing the amount of packaging waste when it comes to pharmaceutical and medical packaging important to hospitals? Why or why not?

Yes, it’s important.  Hospitals are trying to reduce waste and associated costs and increase efficiencies.  Suppliers can facilitate this by how they package materials.  Some hospitals are partnering with their suppliers to identify alternatives to packaging and are asking suppliers to identify steps taken to impact packaging.  Requests include reducing overlap, avoiding inserts (making them available electronically), avoiding the use of polystyrene, using reusable totes and using recycled content packaging or packaging that is recyclable in mainstream markets.  Kaiser worked with one it’s suppliers to set up a reusable totes program to eliminate packaging.

Are there any particular packaging styles that hospitals favor when it comes to minimizing waste? Any that are disliked? Why?

Generally the strategy reflects the four R’s hierarchy – reduce, reuse, recycle and use recycled content. What is disliked are packaging materials that are not easily recyclable (i.e. polystyrene) in all markets and over-packaging.  PVC is not welcome in packaging because it is a source of dioxin.  Hospitals appreciate supplier efforts to reduce packaging or to re-examine product-to-packaging ratios to find ways to minimize packaging.

Are hospitals interested in separating waste and diverting some from incinerators or land fills to recycling streams? If so, what packaging changes would be helpful?

Yes. Many hospitals are working to be more sustainable and increase efficiency.  Reducing waste impacts the bottom line and is a source greenhouse gas emissions once disposed in landfills and a source of chemicals of concern when incinerated.  Primary interests are in preventing waste, reusing materials where possible, being able to recycle materials in local markets.  One target area in hospitals is getting rid of polystyrene, which can be difficult to recycle on all local markets and, once in the waste stream, occupies a significant amount of space (not weight). 

Helpful packaging changes include the strategies described above.  It would also include the use of materials that did not harm the environment when disposed or incinerated.  One example is many hospitals are asking for packaging free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which emits a dangerous toxin, dioxin, when produced and incinerated.

Would buying decisions be made based on waste reduction?

Depending on the health care organization and their goals, this could be part of the contract evaluation process but would not be the only criteria considered.   Premier sourcing process includes that  gathering of information on not only the product but also its packaging, including potentially toxic components, recyclability, and take-back programs.
 

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