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Sustainability in the pharmaceutical market

Despite specific challenges, sustainable approach is entering the pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Climate crisis has become one of the trending topics in 2019. The awareness is rising among individuals, who are more motivated to reduce their waste production and recycle. Businesses implement policies to reduce carbon, water and waste in their operations. As governments and international bodies become more aware about the dangers of rising global temperatures and accumulaton of plastics in the oceans,  they adopt regulations such as the ban of single-use plastics in the EU by 2021.

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The pharmaceutical and medical devices market, however, is very specific as it’s based on safety and strict hygienic standards. Plastic packaging is convenient, cheap and prevents biohazards. Already in the 1950s when plastics started to be used in medicine, there were concerns about sustainability. However, due to the convenience of plastics, modern medicine has not been motivated to find alternative solutions.

Very strict hygiene requirements

Apart from single-use plastics, medical and pharmaceutical industry today produces other types of waste. Some are related to production processes in place, such as the practice of discarding completely the first batch of solid board packaging after changing the settings on the production line. The industry also leads towards smaller batches and personalized medicine (biologics) which leads to more frequent changeovers on the lines and thus greater energy spending. There is also waste related to overproduction or over-ordering of pharmaceuticals and subsequently expiration. Approximately £8bn each year is spent by the NHS on prescription products of which unused or wasted medicines are estimated to cost at least £100m. It is clear that sterility and hygiene requirements can be hard to balance with effort towards a greener business, but there are already efforts to reduce especially the use of plastic in hospitals.

For pharmaceutical companies, quality standards in production are obviously of prime importance, but they also have sustainability standards they need to fulfill. Despite challenges, they are pushed to improve in the areas such as energy spending, carbon footprint, recycling and reducing waste, replacing plastics by more sustainable alternatives in packaging and zero waste initiatives.

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Innovations for sustainable development

The industry already sees some innovations which can increase sustainability in the pharmaceutical and medical sector. For example, combination of medical devices and pharmaceuticals can lead to production of simpler devices for multiple use which need less packaging and use just the right dosage for patients. Serialization processes can help manufacturers and distributors in planning their production and shipping more precisely.  Better supply chain planning in pharmacies and hospitals can reduce over-ordering of medicines and recycling of no longer needed medicines.

Join us for a presentation on Sustainability in pharma at Pharmapack in Paris on 5 February 2020 at 2pm at our stand E50 and speak to our sustainability and pharmaceutical packaging experts. Sign up below.

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