Innovations in packaging and resource impact

GE Healthcare says a study examining the environmental impact of its +PlusPak polymer bottle has superior environmental benefits compared to its glass counterparts.

Healthcare clinicians traditionally use glass bottles for storage, handling, and disposal of contrast imaging agents for X-ray and MRI procedures. Traditional glass bottles have challenges, as clinicians risk breakage and possible injuries, loss of product, cleanup needed upon breakage, as well as the cost of proper disposal after use.

GE’s life cycle assessment study compared the polymer bottle to traditional glass bottles, and showed that polymer bottles can provide the following advantages including:

  • End-of-life disposal: Polymer bottles in the US are most likely to be treated as municipal waste versus glass bottles, which must be disposed of in a sharps container followed by autoclaving and landfilling. The resources for disposing of the polymer bottle are less demanding
  • Packaging and transport: Sensitivity to air freight, secondary packaging, and lower mass of the polymer bottles all contribute to fewer carbon emissions
  • Insights from this study may suggest cost implications for radiology departments, as switching from glass packaging to GE Healthcare’s innovative +PlusPak polymer bottle could reduce contrast media related red-bag waste costs by as much as 78 percent

Fifty-four percent of global health care professionals say their hospitals currently incorporate sustainability into purchasing decisions, and 80 percent expect that to be the case in two years, according to a September Harris Poll commissioned by Johnson & Johnson.

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The research paper is comprehensive and the conclusions are in some part compelling. We need many more research studies like that one, to inform developments in product packaging and its impact on carbon footprint, cost and disposal options. The obvious answer isn’t always the best answer, and that holds true in particular to many of the decisions made by the Environment Agency concerning healthcare waste disposal requirements.

Too often, these decisions are based on ideological constructs created with no scientific foundation. There is sometimes much faux justification offered, and on other occasions nothing at all. Regrettably, once these constructs become operational there may be no going back as the construct takes on an air of respectability that makes funding of the research that really should have come first so difficult to secure.

In the case of the  +PlusPak polymer bottle,  the work that has been done to investigate its value may give it a commercial advantage. Let’s hope so. Will it change the mind of manufacturing sector who can see increased margins or lowered prices?  Possible.

And will it persuade buyers? That is the crucial question. With some smart sales patter, possibly but unless prices are lower it seems that the end of pipe impact would be too small to achieve any saving in disposal costs, and certainly not change disposal practice. So, unless we all change our approach, this research may have little real impact. We should hope otherwise – let’s look back in 10-15 years and see how thinks have changed.



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