Sustainable Packaging in the Life Sciences and Healthcare Industry
Authors: QProducts & Services Digital Team, Under the Direction of Paul Yadron, Sr. VP of Sales
Sustainable packaging is and always has been a topic of discussion amongst vendors, suppliers, and customers in the life sciences and healthcare industries. The rate of acceptability is accelerating, and companies are adapting more than ever. In episode two of the Cold Chain Council Podcast, Peter Mirabella of QProducts and Services breaks down the factors that drive QProducts to implement sustainable packaging and practices into the products they build.
Q: How does QProducts and Services look at packaging sustainability and how is it different from years past?
A: We, as most of the world, want and need to improve the environment. From the air we breathe to minimizing the consumption of our natural resources, these are the basic driving factors. We would be foolish to think that cost is not part of this equation. As a manufacturer of packaging solutions, we are always balancing cost effectiveness with sustainable solutions. In the past, there was an “either/or” approach to packaging sustainability. For example, either developing an elaborate re-use program or the more challenging recyclable program. Now, it’s a matter of being good stewards of the world around us and making packaging sustainability a priority.
Q: Let’s talk about recycling and what that means with materials.
A: These are both challenging areas that require innovation by manufacturers such as QProducts and Services and those involved in Cold Chain Council. Of course, there is no one best answer but rather a multifaceted approach to attack sustainability. We incorporate technology, innovation in materials, collaboration with our customers, maximizing truckload capacities by packaging, and finally, looking at preferable recyclable materials.
Q: Why do we need to rethink packaging in life sciences and healthcare?
A: We need to rethink packaging in life sciences and healthcare because our customers drive us too. Although I say this, we know well that it is our customer’s customers and that being a society as a whole drive us to continue our innovation.
Q: Why aren’t there mature sustainable solutions today?
A: There has been and continues to be an evolution in both materials and manufacturing processes. As an engineer, we balance cost and material characteristics with what fits into reasonable assembly processes to fit the strict criteria to protect temperature-sensitive commodities. As engineers, we are limited with what and how these come together into a finished solution. As you may expect, these limitations result in less sustainable solutions. We continuously research materials we use in our solutions that are low cost and high performing and fit into our manufacturing process. There are always innovations going on from raw material properties to how they are converted into shapes we use to build solutions for our customers.
A perfect example I can share with you are materials used in the residential construction and home goods industries that transitioned into the packaging industry. Historically, the fabrics were either too narrow or too expensive. As technologies improved in how fabrics are manufactured and converted into usable fabrics for temperature packaging solutions, engineers found these products usable in our manufacturing processes.
Q: What motivates you to rethink packaging in your supply chain?
A: The challenge of solving problems. For example, temperature protection packaging is lightweight and if I can use a very technical engineering term, “fluffy.” Shipping air is not sustainable particularly when we consider the future availability of fuel and our focus to reduce carbon emissions. To help with these sustainable concerns, we figured out a way to remove air from our product. QProducts has invested and incorporated new technology that allows us to compress the air from our product, therefore increasing the number of units shipped per pallet. Consequently, we minimize the number of shipments to our customers. In turn, they improve their carbon footprint due to finding a better packaging method and solution.
Another important motivation to note is reducing costs. With sustainable packaging, the cost per unit to ship is dramatically reduced. The savings we may have offered our customers in the past are now the new standard. There is always an ever-driving force to develop lower cost solutions. However, don’t get me wrong, in many cases you get what you pay for. There is a correlation in price to performance. We like to call it price performance continuum.
Q: Can you share a glimpse into the future of packaging?
A: The future of packaging is technology and data analytics driven. It comes from advancements in materials, migration of other industry technologies into the manufacturing world, and just old fashion collaboration. We utilize computer simulation software to refine or enhance our design solutions on a regular basis. When you think about life sciences or healthcare, the qualification process is long and tedious. We all know the traditional steps of DQ, OQ, and PQ. With the use of computer simulations, engineers can dial in the best solution for each application, lane or pack out.
So, what is the impact on the future of packaging? We see solutions getting to market faster and being more refined, which means using less packaging material and as always, being the best cost-effective solution to the end user.
The future of packaging will also be driven through collaboration. QProducts and Services and Riskpulse are a perfect example of how our customers benefit from this collaboration. Riskpulse is a web-based software solution that uses data analysis of up-to-the-minute weather conditions. It provides intellectual risk-based scoring to help recommend preferred transportation modes for your temperature sensitive commodities.
Imagine the ability to bring data built through computer simulation and incorporating that into live weather data making decisions on which mode of transport to use – refrigerated transport, active shipper, pallet shipper, passive shipper, or simply over the road service. The future of technology is information driven.
Q: What are your main challenges?
A: Developing a truly recyclable solution and working towards curbside reliability in all our materials. Our Inspect/Clean/Recycle program for extending the performance and safe use potential of every pallet cover in a client’s network is something we strive to continuously improve.
At QProducts and Services, every quilt we make takes reefers – and their larger carbon footprint – off the road. It’s our goal to reduce the footprint of the logistics industry through safe product development and recycling programs. Learn more about our commitment to sustainability and discover more of our temperature protection solutions.