By Steve Brownett-Gale, Marketing Lead at Origin
“The influence of climate change on global health is evident, and the WHO has identified it as today’s most significant threat to health for communities around the world. Without drastic changes, the threat is only likely to worsen.
“The pharmaceutical industry finds itself at the core of this huge challenge, playing a dual role by contributing to the climate crisis while also providing solutions to treat the impact it is having on human health.
“Statistically, and despite being 28 percent smaller than the automotive industry, the pharma industry is more carbon-intensive with 13 percent higher emissions, over half of which are produced in the supply chain.
“But each year, the world watches with hope that productive conversations leading to real action are held at the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference. This year, at COP28, there is a credible chance world leaders will commit to the phase-out of fossil fuel use in the coming decades.
“Given this, how can the pharma industry take part in this initiative? One part of the answer is for the industry to take swift and decisive action to decarbonise its supply chain and create a climate-resilient healthcare system.
“Sustainability must be integrated into manufacturing processes, particularly when Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) are used as these are energy intensive. In support of this, there are several solutions available to help reduce energy-related emissions, including rainwater harvesting, anaerobic digestion plants to treat hybrid waste, energy-efficient and motion sensor lighting, and solar panels to power facilities using renewable energy. Robotics are also increasingly being used to maximise production yields and accuracy with reduced output.
“Prioritising eco-friendly packaging and distribution will help to reduce the industry’s environmental impact. The use of 3D printing to eliminate the risk of unnecessary waste, the integration of safety features without compromising on the use of recyclable materials and the adoption of plant-based and compostable materials all make a difference.
“But before alternative packaging materials can go mainstream, rigorous testing is essential to ensure they meet the high standards necessary for pharmaceutical packaging. Plastic continues to dominate due to its proven track record meeting these stringent requirements.”
“The environmental impact of pharmaceutical products after their use and disposal is another concern. The industry is challenged to create new recycling methods and to repurpose waste. One unique example is Novo Nordisk’s programme for reusing the plastic in its insulin pens to make office chairs and lamps using the waste materials.
“Additionally, the rising surge in demand for Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) resins in packaging is hopeful. The sustainability benefits include reducing waste, lowering the carbon footprint of manufacturing and promoting a circular economy. For example, PCR plastic reduces manufacturer costs as fewer, more expensive, virgin materials are needed in production.
“However, the phase-out of fossil fuels will mean reliance on PCR plastics is finite. Fossil fuels are a key component in the production of virgin plastic, since crude oil and natural gas are the primary raw materials in making plastic, without which PCR resins cannot exist.
“Lastly, continued digital transformation within the industry is a shining light. The integration of big data, AI and machine learning all work to enhance sustainability by reducing inefficiencies, minimising human error and improving supply chain integrity. Encouragingly, the advent of Pharma 4.0 is closing the gap between the digital and physical, allowing for a 365-degree view of business operations and supply chains.
“However, although we are in a climate emergency and everyone wants quick solutions, full digitalisation will take time and requires the diversification and enhancement of workforce skills to match the advancing technology.”