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Will the Coronavirus Halt Initiatives for Sustainable Packaging?


Published on April 3, 2020

With people on high alert due to potential virus-spreading and cities all over the world implementing and/or rewarding the use of reusable packaging; will the trend toward sustainable packaging subside? This is an unprecedented time. While countries are doing all they can to minimize the spread, there is no doubt that our collective cultures will be changed by the impact of this pandemic.

One nurse wrote about her daily routine and the use of disposable dinnerware to keep her family safe. This will be a common practice for many over the coming months. Many of us have shied away from disposables such as dinnerware in a simple step toward environmental stewardship—now, this. Will our thinking shift to choose community health over environmental stewardship? Will we readily resume our environmentally supportive steps when healthy conditions are restored?

Over the past decade, the medical packaging industry has seen a rising trend to reduce, reuse and/or recycle packaging used for medical applications. This trend began as consumers became more educated about the impact packaging has on the overall environment. These trends have influenced companies like Starbucks to implement many changes within their stores. They have taken steps to become more conscious of the waste that is produced by their products. The medical device community is also following suit. We see medical packaging suppliers working diligently to identify opportunities that can positively impact sustainability initiatives for their medical device customers. Will these efforts proceed in light of our pandemic experience?

With the recent events and heightened awareness for the spread of germs, bacteria and disease, people are more conscious now than ever. The lasting effects the coronavirus will have on our society and culture will potentially impact the way we view reusable packaging. A June 2018 study showed how the norovirus has potential to spread due to reusable grocery bags. The plastic grocery bag is a major culprit on pollution as it can take between 400 and 1000 years to break down. Another recent finding by the FDA showed that Infections associated with reprocessed duodenoscopes were on the rise. This caused the agency to urge MDMs to design reusable products to reduce the number of infections. Both examples show the potential negative impact reusable packaging and devices can have on society and health outcomes. With the current climate and the emphasized focus on cleanliness, it will be interesting to see the impact COVID-19 has on the sustainability movement.

The strict requirements and regulations for medical device packaging create a challenge for those companies looking to introduce sustainable packaging. It is typically something that falls to the bottom of the priority list with patient safety and compliance to regulations bubbling to the top. With that being said, leading environmentally conscious countries are creating regulation and requirements that include sustainable packaging (see EU Packaging Waste Directive). The assumption prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was that this trend would continue to get stronger with regulation in more countries. Now, we will have to wait and see.

Jenn Goff
Director, Product Strategy | Oliver Healthcare Packaging

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