Sustainable pharmaceutical packaging becomes popular as plastic pollution rises

The pharmaceutical packaging market is one of the largest industries of the 21st century and contributes majorly to the national GDP.

As one of the key enablers of economic growth and global healthcare safety, pharmaceutical packaging manufacturers strive to bring forth highly efficient, long-lasting, and durable solutions to the mainstream, keeping in line with the latest trends. To that effect, the sector has undergone several changes in the last couple of decades, as the world witnessed a steady influx of new packaging solutions.

However, the pharmaceutical packaging industry, besides focusing on the safety, health, and well-being of consumers, is also blamed for largely contributing to global GHG emissions. The pharma sector generates nearly 55% more toxic carbon emissions than the automotive industry and plastic packaging solutions can be considered among the prime accelerators of this issue.

Concerned about the waste being generated from pharmaceutical packaging and the associated generation of carbon footprint, industry players have been making concerted efforts to reduce plastic usage, which will play a key role in reducing the global environmental pollution. Studies suggest that to comply with the reduction targets stated in the Paris Agreement, scientists have anticipated that by 2025, the pharmaceutical sector needs to reduce emissions by 59% from 2015 levels.

This initiative can be supported by the rising use of sustainable packaging solutions in the sector. Recent years have seen different leaders make strides in the development of new, biodegradable packaging materials, and substitutes for plastics that are extensively used in the pharmaceutical packaging industry.

In the era where sustainability is the buzzword, companies across both the pharmaceutical sector and the packaging industry are going the extra mile to build solutions that cater to both the environment and consumers.

How far are packaging solution providers going to introduce ‘green packaging’ options in the pharma sector?

With the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries working toward a green and circular economy, companies operating in the sector are introducing an array of eco-friendly materials, like recycled paper, glass, plastic made from sugarcane, cardboard, and others. Besides, materials like corn starch gelatin, pectin, and wheat bran are being deployed into new, eco-friendly packaging materials.

  • Plastic made from sugarcane

It was in early 2020 that Natupharma came up with an idea for the development of fully recyclable and biodegradable plastic made from sugarcane. Industry analysts are of the opinion that the new ‘green’ polymer will degrade in 10 years and emerge as a key asset to the pharmaceutical packaging market.

The benefit of producing plastic from sugar cane is that it is ecological, offering a pivotal advantage over traditional plastics that take hundreds of years to break down. The key to the biodegradability of the material is that microbes can simply enter and break them down by stashing acids that degrade the plastic.

In October 2021, Astellas Pharma began using sugarcane-extracted PE as 50% of its raw material for developing pharmaceutical blister packaging. This move represents the globe’s ‘first use’ of biomass plastic for drug blister packs. Officials suggest that the pharma firm will use a sugarcane-based plastic blister pack for its ‘Irribow Tablet 5 µg” tablets for the Japanese market.

  • Aluminium foil as a sustainable material

Speaking of sustainability in the packaging industry, aluminium is considered to be 100% recyclable with the ability to be recycled again without compromising its inherent value. This makes the metal highly preferred across the pharmaceutical sector as a potential packaging material. Its brilliant barrier properties, resistance to oxygen, moisture, and other gases also contribute to its usage as a pharma packaging material. Alongside, the aluminium foil helps keep medicines in perfect condition for a longer period of time.

Various companies are diverting their interest toward the use of aluminium foils for the storage of pharmaceutical drugs and medicines. An example of this is Uflex’s introduction to Alu-Alu cold blister films. As per reliable sources, UFlex’s Alu Alu packaging is one of the colossal moves in the pharma packaging industry. The material offers cost optimization and sustainability that can surpass the popularity of conventional pharma packs.

The road ahead

With carbon emissions substantially rising by the hour, it is critical for the pharmaceutical sector to introduce concerted and significant changes to business models and exclude the use of plastic materials for the development of packages. To that end, a few milestones have already made way in the industry:

  • In 2022, Huhtamaki- a pioneer in sustainable packaging solutions- made it to the news headlines for introducing a gamechanger in the pharmaceutical industry with the launch of Push Tab blister lid. The solution, made of aluminium-free, mono-material PET blister lidding, is anticipated to cater to the stringent safety requirements of highly regulated healthcare and pharmaceutical packaging.
  • In another instance, Bayer AG, in December 2021, announced that it is moving ahead with its plan of implementing 100% green packaging for consumer health brands by 2030 as part of its 100 million euros sustainability program. In addition, the firm also speculates it will produce all its brand packaging from an average of 50% recycled content by 2030.
  • During April 2021, Amcor designed a breakthrough recyclable healthcare packaging that boasts of the potential to revolutionize the sustainability of healthcare packaging. Labelled as AmSky blister system, the innovation is poised to achieve up to a 70% reduction in its carbon footprint, compared to the other alternatives present in the market today.

With different options now available, right from sugarcane to aluminium metal and banana leaf fibers, the pharmaceutical packaging industry is slated to head toward a profitable growth trajectory in 2022 and beyond. Validating this claim is a report by Global Market Insights Inc. that anticipates pharmaceutical packaging market size to surge beyond USD 155.3 billion by 2028. Read More:

Written by Dominy Jones