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How Do Recycled Materials Fit with Healthcare Packaging?

Despite more stringent packaging waste regulations coming out of Europe, life sciences brand owners maintain some leeway. Experts offer examples of where recycled content has potential.


Quick hits:

  • The EU packaging and packaging waste directive (PPWD) allows regulators to make implementing decisions
  • Rules that will apply to other types of packaging won’t necessarily apply to medical and pharmaceutical packaging.
  • Medical packages can become a good source for recycled material due to the high-quality polymers they are comprised of.
  • Advanced recycling and internal pre-consumer recycling each have roles to supply in healthcare sustainability.

Related to this episode:

Listen to the story here:

   Read the transcript below:

Hi, I’m Keren Sookne with Take Five with Healthcare Packaging.  

At this point, it’s become widely accepted that the healthcare industry as a whole can no longer ignore its environmental impact. (Of course, there are folks including but not limited to the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council who have been working on sustainability in the packaging community for years.)

Healthcare has long been exempt from the discussion when it comes to single-use plastic bans, taxes, and extended producer responsibility. But this is beginning to change with regulations coming out of Europe. DuPont’s Thierry Wagner recapped those in an article, Emerging EU Sustainability Regulations for Packaging, which we’ll link to below.

Now, it’s nerve-wracking to think about regulators outside of the packaging community creating laws that could affect a validated medical package and patient safety. 

We’ve seen on the consumer side sudden switches to industrially compostable materials without consumer access to composting sites. So, while action is necessary, regulations must take into account practical considerations such as the true end of life of a package. 

The good news is that EU regulators seem to open to feedback from the life sciences and they recognize patient safety is paramount. 

At the virtual Medical Packaging Conference in October, Wagner noted that in the packaging and packaging waste directive (PPWD), there’s a clear rule which allows regulators to make implementing decisions… so rules that would apply to other types of packaging wouldn’t necessarily apply to medical and pharmaceutical packaging based on their decisions.

In terms of integrating recycled content into packaging—this is something we’re seeing on the consumer side in personal care, cannabis, and more with the use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content and, in some cases, the specific use of reclaimed ocean plastics. 

Wager pointed out that medical packaging can be a great source of recycled content—these life science packages are composed of high-quality polymers. So it’s important for the community to figure out the logistics of contributing material to be repurposed. 

But as Wager said, he believes that for integrating recycled content into healthcare packaging, we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the maturity of these emerging technologies due to the EU MDR and FDA rules for controlling risks. You can only make sure that you’re meeting those requirements if you have traceability of these streams and if you have flawless quality control. He says eventually this will come—the push is there.

At the virtual Medical Packaging Conference, Amcor’s Dr. Isabelle Jenny said that while PCR content coming from mechanical recycling isn’t used in food, pharma, or medical packaging, she said there’s promise in advanced recycling that may one day be used even in these highly regulated applications.

Amcor recently launched one of the first food packages containing “advanced recycling recycled content” that material is used in a chocolate flow wrap application. So advanced recycling recycled content is starting to be implemented for food packaging, and as a next step, pharmaceutical and medical packaging are likely to be assessed using this material. 

In mechanical recycling news, Wagner pointed out a project where DuPont upgraded their mechanical recycling processes for internal recycling of pre-consumer waste. Some of these recycled materials go into non-healthcare applications, but they also use recycled Tyvek® for the manufacture of plastic cores to wind Tyvek sheet material in production.

This is something we’ll continue to see more of, and it’s long-held principle of Lean Manufacturing… companies are getting more creative about internal processes for reducing waste and bolstering re-use. 

That’s all for today. See you next time at Take Five video for Healthcare Packaging.

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