The Need: Pharmaceutical blister packages are traditionally made using PVC to thermoform cavities for the pills and an aluminum foil-based lidding to incorporating the package’s opening feature. PVC is not currently recycled, is on the U.S. Plastics Pact’s Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List, and the manufacturing of the aluminum foil has a substantial carbon footprint. Pharmaceutical and consumer health companies have identified a need to move away from PVC with a sustainable alternative.
The Solution: Amcor looked at a short list of packaging materials that could potentially meet the challenging technical and regulatory requirements for pharmaceutical applications while also maximizing improvement in package sustainability. Several options were eliminated early. Biodegradable plastics were not suited for the long shelf life required for many drugs. Polypropylene was considered but it’s been available for many years with limited adoption due to a narrow processing window on packaging machines. Amcor is a large processor of PET bottles and PET thermoformable film, so it was given significant consideration. Ultimately Amcor eliminated PET due to its inability to provide enough moisture barrier to meet product shelf-life requirements and its limited recyclability options in blister package format. Amcor chose high density polyethylene (HDPE) for its broad recyclability (both in rigid containers and flexible polyethylene films), its ability to provide high moisture barrier to meet shelf life requirements, and the fact it is widely used for pharmaceutical pill bottles.
Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve? TARGET 1: Define a list of packaging that is to be designated as problematic or unnecessary by 2021 and take measures to eliminate them by 2025 and TARGET 2: 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025
What makes it particularly smart or circular? We designed this package using one of the most recycled plastics in the world, HDPE, and by strictly following APR recycling design guidance. HDPE milk containers were some of the first plastic containers collected curbside for recycling. The AmSky™ package, both lidding and thermoformed base, use HDPE. We have supplied recyclers with AmSky™ packages, and they have confirmed compatibility in their existing processes. We are in good company as Colgate-Palmolive also chose HDPE for their recyclable toothpaste tubes for many of the same reasons Amcor chose HDPE for AmSky™. HDPE is well known in the pharmaceutical industry through its use in plastic pill bottles and therefore provides manufacturers with a level of confidence.
Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: Though everyone in pharma and consumer health wants new, innovative, more sustainable packaging solutions, it can be a costly and resource intensive assignment to change packaging. Partly due to this reason, there has been little change to sustainable solutions for blister packaging. However, pharma and consumer health companies have recently stepped up their commitment to change and AmSky™ has provided a commonsense option that they can relate to.
AmSky™ has received APR (Association of Plastic Recyclers) Critical Guidance Recognition for the PE film stream acknowledging its recyclability.
How are you communicating your success? Amcor is already a major global supplier of blister packaging for pharma and consumer health companies, and we have shared the AmSky™ solution with our existing customers. We are also sharing the solution with leading private label store brands that are committed to sustainability as well as the contract manufacturers who make and package their products.
What’s Next? This is just the beginning of a portfolio of pharmaceutical and consumer health packaging solutions that will accelerate achieving and maximize the magnitude of sustainability goals for the healthcare industry. Recyclable packaging, substantial reduction in carbon footprint, elimination of ‘problematic materials,’ reduction in the use of plastics, and PCR content are just some of the things we are incorporating into new products we are now or will be bringing to market soon.
Roadblocks & Lessons Learned: The key lesson learned was that it is not easy to replace a material like PVC that has been widely used and optimized for over 50 years, especially in a highly regulated market. We have learned that you need to have a very compelling solution to get companies to change and patience for the time it takes them to qualify. Fortunately, we have some very motivated customers working to transform the sustainability of their blister packaging portfolio.
Core Team, Partners, & Participants: Amcor had a core team of material scientists, R&D engineers, product managers, field service technicians, marketing managers, sales leaders, packaging machinery companies and customer sponsors in both the North America and Europe that are working together to bring this solution to market.
Time Frame: The original idea and approach were introduced internally at Amcor in 2015. At the time, we were not hearing that pharma and consumer health companies were looking for a recyclable blister package. We were skeptical that a fully recyclable package would be of interest to a broad list of companies. Before committing to a major development, we tried to find a few companies that would be interested and would change if we could meet all the technical requirements while also achieving recyclability. While we went ahead and made a proof-of-concept package in 2016, it took until 2019 to gain enough customer interest to commit to a development program.
Budget: Amcor funded the entire development including the purchase of two commercial scale blister packaging machines to make certain what we were developing would have an ample operating window on packaging machines in our customer’s manufacturing plants.
Quote: “The world needs companies to commit the effort and resources to develop game changing sustainable packaging solutions. It’s not easy, payback may take several years, and many healthcare companies may not be motivated to change in the near term. However, there are market leading healthcare companies that are committed to positive change who are leading the way. Supporting their sustainability goals will help them to gain share with investors and customers which will in turn motivate the laggards to step up their sustainability efforts as well.”
Company/Organization Information: 47,000 coworkers, Global HQ located in Zurich Switzerland, NA HQs located in Ann Arbor, MI, Oshkosh, WI and Buffalo Grove, IL