Green chemistry: How the pharma industry is paving the way for sustainable production

The EU’s recent proposal for new requirements on minimum amounts of recycled plastic required in packaging has been front of mind for businesses across all sectors. But as Pharma Intelligence reports, nowhere have the implications been more keenly felt than in the pharmaceutical industry.

In Brief

  • New packaging regulations are building the momentum for innovative waste management solutions, especially in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • With global giants coming together to collaborate, there’s huge momentum in the pharmaceutical industry in particular for innovative waste management solutions.
  • A raft of innovations to manufacturing processes known as ‘green chemistry’ shows how sustainable efficiencies can be built across the entire supply chain.
  • All businesses can learn from the pharma industry’s collaborative approach to sustainability – challenge your partners to find new solutions.

As pharma leaders discuss in European Pharmaceutical Review, sustainability is just one concern that their packaging must contend with. There also health and safety, anti-counterfeit, and accessibility standards to comply with.

Last year, the pharma industry was responsible for 300 million tonnes of plastic waste, of which 50% was single use. The pharma industry has been given until 2035 to meet these stringent sustainability standards, and it’s mobilising great change. How are pharma businesses rising to the challenge?

It’s clear that the industry can’t succeed in silo. European Pharmaceutical Review recently reported that four Japanese pharma giants are collaborating to share knowledge on packaging technologies, working together to reduce their environmental burden. With all four companies looking to more efficient recycling methods as a way of backing up their sustainability claims, it sets an exciting precedent for collaboration across the supply chain.

The results of this collaboration and innovation are already coming thick and fast, with the recent PHARMAPACK Europe 2023 event hosting an array of new pharma packaging initiatives. From new drug delivery solutions to reusable connected devices, the awards ceremony highlighted the focus on prioritising recyclable materials in all aspects of pharmaceutical design.

The event’s brand manager, Laura Murina-Indriksone, also noted a key shift in the mindset of pharma decision makers: “What’s interesting is that sustainability is not only integral to pharma companies’ strategies but also a key part of their promotion, marketing and positioning.”

What happens when pharma companies look to put sustainability at the heart of their practices? In the best-case scenarios, something called green chemistry’.

This concept refers to a ‘green-by-design’ approach to projects, where sustainability is built into entire production process. Most example involve a measure of process mass intensity (PMI): how much material is required to produce a final product. By looking to reduce the amount of reagents used, pharma companies can make their production more efficient.

Green chemistry is also about reducing your impact on the environment through reducing the amount of waste produced and seeking less impactful waste streams. For example, careful planning can eliminate some production process steps entirely, streamlining production into its most efficient form.

It’s clear that the reduction and management of pharmaceutical waste, both in the form of production materials and packaging, is key to adopting a green-by-design approach.

With new research projecting that the global medical waste management market will grow at a CAGR of 5.4% from 2023 to 2030, it’s clear that the industry is recognising this.

So what we can learn from the giants of pharma? That going green takes action, not just talk. As we discussed in our last bulletin, there are concrete steps businesses can be taking, such as prioritising recycled plastic materials and investigating recycling innovations such as pyrolysis.

The pharma industry’s strides towards sustainability are a great example of how collaboration can produce great results. With the world looking to other industries to follow suit, the question remains: how will you go green?

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