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Reusable pharma packs 'greener' than single use

Reusable shippers result in less of an environmental impact versus single-use packaging for pharmaceutical products, especially at high volumes.

That’s the conclusion of a study undertaken in 2012 by thermal protection packaging provider Minnesota Thermal Science in cooperation with The University of Minnesota College of Science & Engineering. Results of the study were shared by former university student Kai Goellner, now Manufacturing Engineer at MTS, at the 11th Annual Cold Chain GDP & Temperature Management Logistics Global Forum, held in Chicago in October.

The Life Cycle Analysis research project investigated the environmental impact of MTS’ Credo Cube® reusable shipper versus a single-use shipper with comparable payload volume and performance characteristics. The shippers were evaluated over a two-year period in a pharmaceutical clinical trial requiring 30,000 individual shipments within the continental U.S. The results of the study represent the cradle-to-grave carbon footprint comparison of the reusable, recyclable Credo Cube 12-L shipper with vacuum insulated-panel/phase-change material components qualified to maintain a 2ºC to 8ºC temperature range for 96 hr with a single-use shipper insulated with either extruded polystyrene (EPS) or polyurethane (PUR) and gel packs.

During the study, the reusable containers were shipped twice a month, with a 90% annual recovery rate. The single-use model represented the average of the component weights of three leading producers of products supporting the functional unit. In terms of recycling, the Credo Cube had a 52% recycling rate, while 0% of the single-use components were able to be recycled, with the exception of the corrugated.

Walking attendees through the study results, Goellner showed how the carbon footprint of transporting temperature-sensitive payloads, especially in high volumes, is significantly less with reusable, temperature-controlled containers in a closed-loop logistics system versus single-use technology.

“The research results demonstrate that one of the greatest disadvantages of a single-use logistics system is the emissions generated in the first three phases—material extraction, component manufacturing, and component assembly—where 12 times the global warming potential is generated versus the reusable system,” Goellner said. “With a closed-loop reverse logistics system in place, only 772 reusable shippers are needed over the two-year period, as compared to 30,000 shippers in a single-use container logistics system. This differential significantly impacts the cradle-to-grave global warming potential, with the reusable container generating only 225 metric tonnes of emissions in comparison to 1,100 metric tonnes generated by EPS or PUR containers.”

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