Suzhou International Expo Centre

Medtec Innovation Suzhou

2024.12.23-24 | B1 Suzhou International Expo Centre

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Working Toward a More Sustainable Future for Medical Products

When setting sustainability goals, makers of medical products need to look at products, packaging, and operations holistically and collaboratively rather than focusing on individual elements.

According to Achieving Packaging Sustainability, a report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, “Sustainability presents an opportunity for businesses facing increasing competitive and economic pressures to gain value and competitive advantage as they respond to environmental concerns and the pressures of resource scarcity, population growth, and higher and more varied consumer expectations.”

Opportunities and Challenges

Success depends on collaboration among all stakeholders, including consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs), materials providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Wherever possible, makers of medical products should:
• Consider carbon impact as part of the business case for any action.
• Shift to green energy sources.
• Specify machines that consume less energy.
• Retrofit machines to run sustainable materials.
• Reduce consumables like lubricants, inks, adhesives, and labels.
• Use lightweight containers, closures, and packaging materials.
• Generate less waste.
• Specify renewable, recyclable, and/or recycled-content packaging material.
• Use less plastic.

However, it must be understood that an effort to operate more sustainably can bring negative consequences such as higher product and packaging material costs, which cannot be passed along to the purchaser. Although consumers often say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products and packaging, when the bill arrives, they may not pay a premium.

If a more sustainable design or material diminishes protective qualities, damage rates may rise, increasing costs, hurting the reputation of the company/product, and, potentially, harming patients. Sustainable designs should be thoroughly tested to ensure the transition will not have any unacceptable consequences.

Care also must be taken to avoid “greenwashing,” by unsubstantiated claims and environmental attributes. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission regulates environmental marketing claims under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which “prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” The agency’s Green Guides help stakeholders determine which claims are appropriate. Environmental labeling requirements also are outlined in ISO 14020.1

Innovations to Support Sustainability

Meanwhile, as sustainability efforts evolve, attention is beginning to shift to four areas of activity, according to the PMMI report. In Europe, CPGs are asking for the carbon footprint rating of each machine as part of their vetting process. Increasingly, digitalization and smart connected systems are capturing data that can be used to take steps to conserve resources such as staffing levels and utilities like water and compressed air.

There’s also a drive toward a circular economy where products and packaging are recovered and converted into new products and packaging. This is particularly well-suited in closed-loop systems where reusable containers can make multiple trips between the manufacturing operation and caregiver/consumer. To achieve a circular economy, CPGs must look for opportunities to adopt reusable packaging, collaborate more closely with recyclers, and take a more active role in recycling and usage of recycled materials.

Finally, more attention must be paid to educating the public about the role consumers play in better stewardship of resources and waste reduction. None of these challenges are easy to meet, but by forging strong partnerships, medical product manufacturers can make real strides towards improving sustainability across the industry. As PMMI’s report notes, there are five key tactics to achieving sustainability goals:

• Understand what your sustainability goals are and establish key performance indicators so you can measure results.
• Involve a third-party auditor to help optimize operations.
• Involve recyclers.
• Involve producer responsibility organizations.
• Participate in legislative efforts and standardization work.


[1] Institute of Packaging Professionals, “Environmental and Sustainability Issues,” Fundamentals of Packaging Technology, Fifth Edition, 2013, 151.

Article source: MPO