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How Medical Packaging Is Changing Amid Environmental Concerns

CRISIS - Pollution Crises by Suchita Dey Global Commons Mar 27th 20236 mins
How Medical Packaging Is Changing Amid Environmental Concerns

The medical packaging industry continues to evolve withstanding the backlash of Covid-19. With direct-to-customer (DTC) trends and the pandemic shaping the medical supplier chain, it has become increasingly important to also rethink the way medicines are packed. Rapidly developing pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, and environmental issues are also prominent determinants of how the future of medical packaging evolves.

Did you know that Europe’s potential to grow economically and maintain its competitiveness in the future of the global economy depends heavily on the research-based pharmaceutical industry?
It made an estimated €41,500 million (USD 50.84 billion) investments in Research and Development (R&D) for Europe in 2021 which directly employs around 840,000 people, and whether upstream or downstream, indirectly creates about three times as much employment.
In order to prevent diseases and treat illnesses, the pharmaceutical industry constantly develops new treatments. Just last year it produced, tested, and successfully distributed COVID-19 vaccines all over the world.

Yet, due to their packing, those medications may or may not have been destroyed or contaminated by the time they got to the patients who needed them the most. All because pharmaceutical innovation is outpacing medical packaging.

In truth, glass, which was developed 140 years ago and is the primary material used in medical packaging, has undergone little change and is connected to a diverse array of challenges.

Today, the global medical packaging market is estimated to reach a staggering US$47.11 billion by 2030. This billion-dollar industry continues to grow withstanding the stringent government regulations, environmental concerns, patient efficiency concerns, and much more.

You might also like: We Need Sustainable Food Packaging Now. Here’s Why.

Why Is Medical Packaging a Concern and How Can It Evolve?

Sensitive prescription medications are typically distributed from the manufacturer to the consumer-serving drugstore merchant. With the current direct-to-customer (DTC) trend, which is still developing, there is a new distribution chain with more ports of entry that are open to attack by those with malicious intent. 

With DTC, consumers and shipping services are directly in contact with the product and might not always be trained on how to handle it. This is where traditional medical packaging comes into play.

By utilising our expertise with specialised inks, tamper-evident packaging, and flexible packaging that is both child-resistant and easy to open, we can probably assist with e-commerce security.

Durability throughout the distribution channel is another concern. Prescription medications are typically sent to the pharmacy in bulky pouches or hard containers. Now, smaller quantities of healthcare supplies must endure a lengthier distribution network.

Packaging can aid in this situation in two ways: (1) By making the container strong and durable enough to withstand the lengthier DTC logistics chain, and (2) by assisting in the chain of custody’s security utilising both covert and overt security measures. The aim is to guarantee that the medicines that are shipped to the patient’s house are exactly what the doctor prescribed.

It is only in recent years that hospitals have been able to scan products and determine if they had been tampered with, owing to a newly developed Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. There is a growing curiosity about how RFID technology might support today’s burgeoning chain-of-custody e-commerce concerns. This is a proactive move that acknowledged the need to be accountable for the safety of the drugs or medications packaged, potentially saving millions of lives and vast sums of money.

You might also like: The Environmental Impact of Medical Waste Disposal

Trends and Developments Reshaping Medical Packaging Avenue

During the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers and consumers quickly realised that healthcare systems needed a thorough restructuring and that medical packaging needs a renovation altogether. Glass ampoules were neither sustainable nor safe.

Here are three prominent developments that showcase the need for advanced medical packaging in the modern world. 

1. The Glass Wall That Prolonged the Pandemic

As drug manufacturers committed all of their resources to developing, testing, and distributing COVID-19 vaccination to everyone in the world, packaging became the bottleneck. The need for sufficient glass vials to provide vaccination doses to every person on the planet was challenging and so was the high demand for the sand used to create glass that would meet pharmaceutical standards.

As pharmaceutical manufacturers anticipated delivery, it became apparent that not only there weren’t enough glass vials on hand to meet the demand but also that making the required quantity would have taken years, an impractical amount of time given the urgency to end a global pandemic.

This was illustrated clearly as Chinese glassmakers increased production from August 2022 to accommodate rising worldwide demand as the energy crisis in Europe negatively impacted German vaccine vial production.

Since just a few companies are involved in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical glass, the globe was essentially dependent on their commitment to providing the necessary containers. The world understood that their reliance on glass would delay the end of the pandemic because there were few alternatives available.

2. Nature-Extracted Drugs Demand Better Working Conditions

For most of the history of modern pharmacology, medicines that were created were tiny molecules, straightforward synthetic solutions that did well in glass packing. However, some 30 years ago, the focus of drug development shifted to treatments and pharmaceuticals made from living things. Biologic medications are far more complicated than small molecule drugs, and therefore need more sophisticated medical packaging to safeguard and maintain their therapeutic advantages.

They require more durable containers than conventional plain glass can provide because they are sensitive to the environment (such as temperature changes, shipment handling, elemental exposure, etc.). Moreover, biologics and chemicals on the surface of the glass can interact with its content, resulting in aggregates and leachable compounds in the formulation of biological medicine, leading to product contamination.

With biologics being a large part of the future of drug therapy, over half of the ten best-selling drugs were biologics as of 2020. So now, the future of drug packaging needs to provide a way to keep this new class of drugs safe and effective.

3. Sustainability Is the New Sass

The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council has spent years researching the advantages and disadvantages of recycling healthcare plastics. The organisation even spearheaded the 100 Tons Project, a Chicago-based initiative to show the economic potential of recycling healthcare plastics. While American medical packaging regulations are based on US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria, the European Union’s Medical Device Regulation has replaced the Medical Device Directive in Europe (MDR).

According to Nick Packet, industry vertical manager for the DuPont Tyvek Healthcare Packaging business segment, industry groups are now considering solutions like the incorporation of polymers derived from cutting-edge recycling opportunities that exist for plastics used in hospital waste and recycled materials used in sterile medical packaging. Due to its compliance with widely used sterilisation techniques like ethylene oxide or radiation with gamma or electron beams, Tyvek is utilised in the packing of many different types of medical devices.

Medical packaging manufacturers are increasingly focusing on bio-based and renewable materials. Using sugarcane-derived ethylene, a carbon-negative process that uses carbon dioxide (CO2) and releases oxygen when grown, is one new innovation.

In comparison to conventional methods for obtaining ethylene, Braskem, one of the top manufacturers of so-called “Green PE,” currently produces 440 million pounds of sustainable plastic annually, which is thought to result in a two billion-pound CO2 decrease.

Big Pharma is utilising renewable resources by testing Green PE in blister packaging. Due to the material’s propensity to biodegrade after a decade, this is a significant development.

Pharma packaging manufacturers must find materials that can satisfy environmental criteria without losing integrity or performance since the risks of not following safety laws are higher than in almost any other industry.

One such material is aluminum, which not only acts as a potent barrier between medications and patients but is also one of the most environmentally beneficial metals due to its ability to be recycled, which saves 95% of the energy typically required for its production.

Wrapping Up Thoughts

Ultimately, the biggest trend will be medicine firms realizing that while they can invest time, money, and resources in developing therapies that can save lives, they also need to think about the packaging in which their final product will be delivered. The future of medical packaging is bright for businesses without strong, adaptable packaging that not only keeps drugs secure but also doesn’t lead to contamination or breakage.

You might also like: 8 Sustainable Packaging Solutions to Solve the Plastic Waste Dilemma

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About the Author

Suchita Dey

Suchita is a writer and editor, with her recent work covering domains such as technology, innovation, and marketing - delivering what influences the market landscape. She passionately reads fiction and writes on innovation, to create the perfect blend of content that resonates with market influencers with a hint of a creative approach. Today, her passion for work integrates her skills seamlessly into content syndication, consumed by a global audience influencing thoughts across technology and marketing niches. When off the clock, she likes to spend her days buried in her novels or questing around for good food.

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