Words by Saskia Pronk
Environmental and economic sustainability across all sectors is increasingly being thrust under a green-tinted microscope, and the pharmaceutical industry is not exempt. In fact, keeping in mind the ageing population and rising demand for pharmaceuticals worldwide, companies are increasingly taking heed and demonstrating their commitment to a sustainable future.
Notably, a bold review of the supply chain is seen as critical to optimising pharma manufacturing and packaging, driving both a cost-effective and green future. Firstly, manufacturing represents a potential source of toxic pollution; therefore, encouraging the discovery of greener drug manufacturing routes represents an initial step where sustainability can be championed.
Such examples include a European industry–academia collaboration, CHEM21, which aimed to develop a broad-based portfolio of sustainable technologies for green chemical manufacture. CHEM21’s principal investigator, Prof Nicholas Turner, University of Manchester, explains: “One of the project highlights was the development of a new, sustainable, and efficient route to the medicine flucytosine” – an expensive drug that treats a common, often deadly fungal form of meningitis in people with HIV.
Innovation in the way drugs are formulated and dispensed can greatly decrease the bulk of packaging material and hence, the end waste after disposal
Furthermore, like most industries, pharma is heavily dependent on plastic as primary packaging. But amid the highly-regulated backdrop, a great challenge will appear in sourcing environmentally-friendly solutions which also preserve the quality and safety of medicines and their transportation capabilities.
Jon Lant, Head of New Product Development and Innovation, Origin Pharma Packaging, believes there are multiple angles for greater sustainability: “The focus should not only be on minimising waste material and promoting recyclability, it should also look at the latest production technology and the most strategic geographical location for manufacture.”
Inspiration can be taken from other industries who are transforming packaging scraps and waste into regenerated packaging material. “One example is using 3D visualisation techniques to test and reject new packaging concepts before the next stage of design,” explains Lant. “3D printing is also increasingly being used as a recycling facility, taking discarded PET from single-use plastic bottles and other consumer products and using this as filament.”
Looking to the future of sustainable packaging, Lant considers non-oil-based sources to be the most likely solution. He explains: “Without changing the molecular structure or basic properties of the existing packaging, it’s becoming possible to add a sustainable and renewable element to pharma packaging that was considered unlikely a few years ago.”
Another opportunity is found in reducing the total amount of packaging required in the first place. This concept ties in with greener manufacturing, as Lant details: “Innovation in the way drugs are formulated and dispensed can greatly decrease the bulk of packaging material and hence, the end waste after disposal.” And with worldwide shipping rates increasing for temperature-sensitive biologics and biosimilars, sustainable temperature-control solutions are also under speculation: “Wool, with its natural insulation properties, is an eco-friendly packaging solution. In addition, several other eco-friendly and less expensive alternatives to bubble wraps are gaining prevalence in the market, such as recycled paper and foam packaging.”
There’s no doubt that sustainable production, consumption, and waste management practises are the future of business success. And with several stages in the product lifecycle open to innovation, there is no reason for pharma not to be a leading industry, collaborating and sharing knowledge both internally and externally to enable a greener, more efficient global outlook.