Packaging in the pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceutical industry and sustainability  


Legislation places high demands on packaging for food and pharmaceuticals. Safety and hygiene standards must be met, and in addition, the packaging material should not release any potentially harmful substances to the product it contains.  


Product protection, accuracy and information are of primary importance in the pharmaceutical packaging sector. Due to the enormous focus on product protection, there are specific requirements and guidelines for the plastic material used. Above all, the material selection of the product packaging is related to the composition of the pharmaceutical substances and must be adapted to the specifics in each case. For the pharmaceutical industry, there is also an obligation to serialize and seal the packaging to prevent counterfeiting.  

Sustainable packaging in the pharmaceutical industry  


Unlike food producers, pharmaceutical companies are under less pressure from consumers regarding the sustainability of packaging since patients do not buy drugs according to their packaging.  

However, sustainability involves various aspects that may well contradict each other.  

  • For example, reusable systems avoid waste, but cause more CO2 than disposable containers when transported over long distances due to heavier weight
  • Coated cardboard saves plastic but does not recycle well.  
  • Glass, on the other hand, can be excellently recycled, but the energy consumption is very high, especially in the production of small cans and vials, as is common in the pharmaceutical industry - the list could be enriched with many more examples.  

First, companies should determine for themselves which sustainability goals they mainly want to pursue. Concepts for packaging should fit into this overall strategy. Once the goals are clear, companies should review where they currently stand and what steps are necessary to achieve the goals they have set.

Recyclates are currently out of the question as primary packaging for food and pharmaceuticals anyway:  


"The risk of contaminants being present in the recycled materials is far too great."  


Even if pharmaceutical companies and food producers cannot use recycled materials themselves, they can do a lot to make their primary packaging recyclable. Monomaterials, for example, are far easier to recycle than composites and should therefore be used preferentially. This is the only way to work toward the goal of a circular economy. Effective starting points for greater sustainability in the packaging sector are improved recyclability of packaging and intelligent waste management in filling.  



Blister packaging made from monomaterial  


In 2021, European packaging sales in the healthcare sector are expected to be worth an estimated €1.4 billion, of which blister packaging accounts for around 50%.  

An example of sustainable packaging in the pharmaceutical sector is the introduction of blister packaging made of monomaterial. Conventional blister packaging usually consists of one part aluminum or PVC and the other part thermoforming film. This combination of materials is a no-go for our environment and the overall recycling process. The traditional blister packaging entails many disadvantages such as the non-recycling of the materials, the incineration of the products and the consequent pollution of the environment. For this reason, traditional blisters have no future and are being replaced by the sustainable alternative made of monomaterials.  


Currently, the demand for pharmaceutical blister packaging made of the environmentally friendly alternative polypropylene (PP; monofilms) is increasing and which promotes the circular economy.  


In addition, mono-material packaging is a good alternative not only because of its environmentally friendly properties, but also because of its high transparency, wall thickness distribution and barrier properties, which are ideal against moisture. Thus, the quality of the products can be ensured. The sustainable alternative even scores a rating of "very good" from Interseroh.    


In summary, the use of PP film mirrors the technical packaging properties of the conventional option, but emphasizes the sustainability aspect, making it the ideal solution for the circular economy in the long term.  

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