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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Popping the Bubble on Protective Plastic Packaging

We can do better than plastic bubble packaging, can’t we?

The pharmaceutical sector has lagged behind other markets in the ongoing push for more sustainable packaging solutions – and for good reason. More so than in any other major industry, pharma companies deal with far-ranging, difficult-to-contain, and missioncritical products. Pharma companies must often sacrifice sustainability in deference to patient health.

Against this backdrop is the explosion of e-commerce. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, ordering both prescription and over-the-counter medicines online for home delivery was on an upswing in a variety of firstworld markets, including the UK and the US. Amid 2020’s widespread lockdowns, that gradual climb became a sharp, sudden spike; in England, last year saw a whopping 45% increase in pharmacy items sold through the mail rather than in-person (1). Showing the trend’s staying power, the growth of online pharmacies is expected to continue in the US, increasing by about 19% over the next five years (2).

Here, an industry already struggling with sustainability is forced to add additional packing to fulfil orders – most notably, non-eco-friendly plastic bubble packaging or air pillows. Even smaller items, such as amber vials containing oral solid dose medicines, are often delivered in plastic bubble-lined envelopes.

This is all part of a larger, global problem: the ‘convenience conflict’ delivered goods present. Online consumerism is, generally, great for our busy schedules yet harsh on Mother Earth.

Plastic pollution is, quite simply, out of control. According to an Oceana study in 2019, Amazon alone – one company! – produced 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste, generating enough air pillows to circle the globe an astounding 500 times (3). Meanwhile, market research firm Technavio estimates that demand for filled-air products is likely to swell by $1.16 billion between 2020 and 2024 due to increased online sales (4).

That must, and can, change.

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Lorne Herszkowicz is a Partner at HexcelPack, where he supports the production of eco-friendly, paper-based protective cushioning solutions to replace bubble packaging and other plastic- or foam-based materials. Lorne is a Master of Business Administration from Canisius College, New York, US, and is the Owner of Brayzac Enterprises in the US.

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