Recently, China decided to ban imports of foreign recyclable material. At the same time, the EU is waging its own war against plastic waste. As a result of these major initiatives, manufacturers from all industries have started to feel the pressure to create more sustainable solutions. Among suppliers of plastics, the packaging industry is on the frontline to introduce innovations and smarter design alternatives that reduce plastic output. The EU has set a goal to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030 (Boffey, 2018). It is noteworthy to mention that the recycling of any plastic is challenging and requires a good infrastructure. As the EU is pushing for a “circular economy” and China investing in more plastic recycling infrastructure, all global partners should be laying their own groundwork for sustainable plastics practices.
Following the food industry’s transition from rigid plastic to flexible plastic packaging, many in other packaging sectors, including healthcare packaging, have followed suit. There are many benefits to the growing “reduce the use” mindset. Flexible packaging requires less energy to produce, reducing overall cost to produce and volume of plastic consumption.
Flexible plastic also increases sustainability. For example, it can be effectively recycled post-consumption, into fuel oil or multi-walled carbon nanotubes using plastic pyrolysis (thermal decomposition at a higher temperature in an inert environment). While very feasible, this process depends on other factors, such as how many additional plastic layers are present, chemical additives, such as fillers, colorants, stabilizers etc. (Adrei Veksha, 2019). Additionally, flexible plastic packaging represents a higher product-to-packaging ratio, conforming to the product that it is designed to protect (Plastivision, 2019).
A study also suggests an even more appealing finding for healthcare packaging: the sterile integrity of flexible plastics. A mix of rigid containers with both plastic and aluminum lids, and single-use polypropylene wrapped instruments were placed in a test chamber after sterilization. A test microorganism was introduced into the test chamber for a period of time. At the conclusion of the test, only 12.6% of rigid trays exhibited no bacterial ingress, while 100% of the sterilization wrap had no sign of bacterial ingress (Harry Shaffer, 2015).
In conclusion, flexible plastic offers a reduction in cost of production, a lower material profile, better applications for medical packaging, and flexibility in recycling options, with the required infrastructure in place.
Oliver Healthcare Packaging is committed to our sustainability initiatives through our optimized production to reduce scrap globally, smart and sustainable designs, with product and patient safety as our top priority.
Author: Nam Nguyen, Market Analyst
Adrei Veksha, e. a. (2019). Processing of ﬂexible plastic packaging waste into pyrolysis oil and multiwalled carbon nanotubes for electrocatalytic oxygen reduction . Journal of Hazardous Materials.
Boffey, D. (2018, Jan 16). EU declares war on plastic waste. The Gaurdian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/16/eu-declares-war-on-plastic-waste-2030
Harry Shaffer, e. a. (2015). Sterility maintenance study: Dynamic eveluation fo eterilized rigid containers and wrapped instrument trays to prevent bacterial ingress. American Journal of Infection Control, 1336-41.
Plastivision. (2019, March 27). 5 Amazing Advantages of Flexible Plastic Packaging.