Benefits and Drawbacks of Single-Use Healthcare Packaging
In a world where there is so much waste, why choose single-use healthcare packaging?
The answer: A continuous goal to enhance patient safety and reduce risk of contamination in the healthcare environment. In medical and home settings alike, single-use packaging is not only easy to use, but convenient. The sterility of the product inside is crucial, as it comes in direct contact with the patient. Through single-use packaging, the risks of cross-contamination and infection are significantly reduced.
Often, single-use packaging is designed for ease of use, which results in a smaller overall packaging footprint. User-friendly healthcare packaging allows for intuitive design in a simple, easy-to-open package. This involves designing smart from the beginning, with a broader focus that spans beyond the patient experience to other environmental initiatives, like recyclability.
What is Single-use packaging?
Single-use packaging includes a wide range of healthcare product packaging that is designed for one time use before disposal. It is very popular in both clinical healthcare and home care settings.
Some examples include plastic packaging (i.e. polyethylene, polypropylene, polycarbonate, and polyvinyl chloride), blister packs, foil and glass packaging, Tyvek and medical-grade paper, rigid containers, sterilization wraps, and composite materials (i.e. a combination of materials like plastic, paper, and foil).
Where is Single-use packaging utilized?
Single-use packaging is utilized for a wide range of healthcare products and designed with sterility and patient safety in mind. Some of the most common types of products that utilize single-use packaging include:
- Pre-fillable syringes and needles
- Medical devices – Orthopedic, Vascular, Respiratory, Endoscopy, Cardiology, Ophthalmic, Dental
- Surgical instruments
- Wound care supplies
- Diagnostic test strips and at-home test kits
- Custom procedure trays
- Injectables and vials for medications
- Drug delivery
The packaging for these products is designed to maintain integrity and sterility of the product inside until it is used.
Benefits of Single-Use Healthcare Packaging
There are several reasons why single-use packaging may be selected over multi-use packaging. Some of the biggest advantages include improved patient safety, ease of use, and reduced maintenance.
Improved Sterility and Patient Safety
First, and most importantly, is the focus on patient safety. In the world of single-use packaging, each item is individually sealed and sterilized prior to use. This drastically reduces the risk of contamination and microbes. Utilizing single-use packaging for things like pre-fillable syringes, medical devices and diagnostics kits creates a safer environment for the patient.
There are also risks for infection in the medical setting, many of which could be closely linked to healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). These are caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens that the patient is exposed to during their stay. Disposable packaging can help create a solution and reduce unseen risks before they become future complications.
Ease of Use and Efficiency
In the healthcare setting, every second counts. A moment of time in emergency situations can be critical to the patient’s outcome. Here, single-use packaging wins time and time again. It is not only convenient but is designed for quick and easy access. The packaging can be opened quickly so healthcare professionals can focus on patient treatment instead of product preparation. Additionally, the ease of single-use packaging allows for less handling, which could reduce the potential for procedural error and contamination.
Time and Labor Savings
Many resources are also needed to maintain multi-use healthcare packaging. For reusable packaging, the expense spans far beyond the initial cost of purchase. There are many additional costs associated with multi-use that include cleaning, maintenance, and sterilization of the packaging materials.
Single-use packaging eliminates the need for package maintenance and reduces packaging cost to a one-time expense. Additionally, it lessens the need for autoclave and sterilization equipment in healthcare facilities and hospitals.
Drawbacks of Single-Use Healthcare Packaging
While there are many reasons you may elect to use disposable packaging, there are drawbacks to keep in mind as well. A few notable concerns with single-use packaging include environmental impact, cost considerations and supply chain constraints.
In the realm of healthcare packaging, environmental impact can be two-sided. While many healthcare packaging companies are implementing sustainable practices, there are still concerns about the amount of packaging entering the waste stream. Simply put, single-use packaging is disposable. Many of these packages are made from HDPE, PET, plastic, or other non-biodegradable materials that become waste. The large volume of waste coupled with the increased use of medical products continue to pose an environmental concern globally.
So, why not recycle? Today, there are many challenges encountered when recycling healthcare packaging. Some of these include proper infection control, strict regulatory and safety standards that must be met, and a lacking infrastructure in healthcare facilities that allows for effective separation and recycling of waste. These challenges, in addition to other economic considerations (i.e. cost and effort associated with recycling), allow for added complexity.
For this reason, many healthcare packaging companies are working to reduce their packaging footprint through smart design. This, in turn, minimizes waste through a reduction in packaging materials.
While there are expenses associated with cleaning, maintenance, and sterilization of reusable packaging materials, the initial cost of single-use packaging is also a consideration. Sometimes, single-use healthcare packaging costs may be higher than their reusable packaging counterparts. This is because single-use packages are restocked more frequently. For healthcare facilities with financial constraints, this creates the need to choose between ease of use and long-term costs.
Supply Chain Constraints
The ability to produce single-use healthcare packaging relies heavily on material supply. During the global pandemic, supply for production-critical materials was not guaranteed. When material demand is high, or there are supply chain disruptions, there will continue to be a risk of material shortage. While steps can be taken to mitigate this risk, the reliance on single-use versus multi-use healthcare packaging could be a concern.
What role does Sustainability play in Single-use packaging?
Through the development of recyclable films, healthcare packaging companies can work to be part of the sustainability solution. There is a growing demand for sustainable single-use packaging among medical device companies, hospitals, and end-users alike. By focusing on smart design, healthcare packaging companies can make a positive impact on our environment.
Designing for sustainability means designing for use, with an end goal to reduce the overall packaging footprint. This includes focusing on shipper and package size with the potential for minimizing the amount of material used. Sustainable packaging design can add value in many other ways, as less packaging often means less footprint, shelf space, and potentially unit cost, too.
Overall, no healthcare packaging option is perfect, but we can strive to ensure the patient’s experience is that way. For this reason, single-use healthcare packaging wins time and time again. It offers sterility, convenience, efficiency, and most importantly, enhances patient safety. While there are environmental challenges, healthcare packaging companies are working to find a balance that maximizes patient safety while minimizing environmental impact and costs. The most important consideration is always improved patient safety and comfort.