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How Does Smart Design Contribute to Sustainability? A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Packaging.

Published on February 28, 2023

As we continue to learn more about the world we live in, we explore the best ways to support optimal conditions for humans and nature to co-exist. Creating a better world for present and future generations is important, and global sustainability is a key piece of this equation. For this reason and many others, sustainable packaging is becoming a focus for companies around the world as they work to understand how they can do their part.

Taking a deeper dive into the healthcare industry, sustainability and healthcare are closely interwoven, with the quality of our environment directly impacting public health. There is a growing demand (and preference, in many instances) for sustainable packaging among medical device companies, hospitals, and end-users alike. By focusing on a smaller packaging footprint, healthcare packaging companies can make a positive impact on our environment.

What is sustainable packaging?

Often, people associate the word “sustainable” with packaging that will be more expensive. However, sustainability isn’t synonymous with higher cost, and can provide a competitive edge in the packaging industry.

 In fact, according to Kevin Fisher, packaging and design expert, a focus on sustainable packaging could actually drive savings by utilizing the most efficient packaging possible for a product. Efficiency can be tied directly to things like packaging size, the materials used in packaging, or even the design. For example, an efficient package design could eliminate the need for secondary packaging all together, allowing items used before, during, and after the surgical procedure to be included in the primary packaging, thereby eliminating additional waste. Optimal packaging is based on a fairly simple idea that the needs, limitations, and size of the device should dictate the packaging footprint and not simply what has been done in the past.

What role does “Smart Design” play in sustainable packaging?

For packaging companies, designing to sustainability means that there is an end goal to reduce the overall footprint, focusing on shipper and packaging size with the potential for minimizing the amount of material used. This involves designing smart from the beginning with a broader focus beyond just recyclability. Minimizing waste through a reduction in packaging materials is a key focus in sustainable packaging.

 Sustainable packaging design can add value in many other ways, as less packaging often means less footprint, shelf space, and potentially unit cost, too. This, in turn, provides a competitive edge in comparison to more traditional products and packaging.

 What are the main considerations when creating a smaller packaging footprint?

The key considerations on the path to designing a more sustainable package include:

  • Knowing as much about the device as possible, including capabilities and device limitations. Device size, performance, and packaging constraints will play a key role in determining optimal design. Understanding usability before, during, and after procedures as well as details around procedural accessories will allow for the most precise package design. 

  1. Planning for and selecting materials that are right for your packaging needs. Adequate preparation allows companies to select the correct films and substrates for the sterile barrier, therefore, eliminating the need for over-engineering packages, which includes shippers protecting them. Some considerations may include the potential for downgauging material or limiting the amount of material being used in the packaging configuration. Due to current supply chain constraints, optimal materials for smart design may not always be available.

  • Up-front testing and incremental improvements. By performing feasibility testing up front, companies could save time and money by making improvements throughout the packaging development process instead of at the end.

 Does a smaller package translate to better sustainability?

It could. However, sustainable packaging still needs to maintain the strength and integrity of the sterile barrier system. The packaging must provide protection to the device inside to ensure that there is no damage during transit or storage. All in all, the focus must remain on ensuring the functionality and safety of the device, as well as the end user’s experience.

Overall, when designing to sustainability, simplification of packaging and device knowledge are key. A smaller packaging footprint will yield less waste, provide a potential competitive advantage, and allow for a more sustainable tomorrow.

Andrea Hecker
Product Manager | Oliver Healthcare Packaging

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