Recycling of waste pharmaceutical packages has become a social, environmental and economic concern. In 2018, according to amendments in European Union legislation for packaging and packaging waste, by 2025, a target of 50% recycling of aluminum and plastic was set from packaging waste.”, writes our researcher Vivek Agarwal from Aalto University.
Pharmaceutical packages are a hot topic in sustainable pharmacy
During the last couple of years, there have been hot debates around reducing the total environmental footprint during the entire life cycle of a medicine, including the packing materials. The main voices in the debate have been concerned with the continuous generation of packaging wastes and the environmental impact of waste pharmaceutical packaging due to poor recycling practices.
However, challenges and economic viability of state-of-art recycling processes of the waste pharmaceutical packages have been overlooked. Recycling of waste pharmaceutical packages has become a social, environmental and economic concern. In 2018, according to amendments in European Union legislation for packaging and packaging waste, by 2025, a target of 50% recycling of aluminum and plastic was set from packaging waste.
Blisters – common and complex
Among the materials used for pharmaceutical packaging, polymer and aluminum are the most common materials used at the industry level. Pharmaceutical blisters represent the leading segment of the medical packaging market in Europe and Asia, contains an average of 10-20 wt.% of aluminum foils and 80-90 wt.% of the polymer. In Europe alone, 85% of solid drugs are packed in blisters. Globally, the market size of blister packaging was estimated at USD 17.76 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 24.25 billion in 2024 at a CAGR of 6.3%.
Pharmaceutical blisters have a very complex structure of polymers and metals. The aluminum-polymer layers are joined together using a bonding agent, which makes the separation between metal and polymer layer challenge. Therefore, due to the structural complexity and challenge in the separation process, pharmaceutical blister packages are not accounted for aluminum recycling and mainly disposed of along with household waste by incineration or landfilling.
This causes not only the loss of aluminum from the circulation of metals but also contributes to environmental pollution. Although there are few attempts to separate aluminum and polymer fractions from blisters using chemical, mechanical and thermal processes, however, most of the current solutions are not sustainable due to high-energy consumption, use of chemicals and harsh conditions.
Breakthroughs in SUDDEN research
SUDDEN aims to develop alternative separation and recycling processes for pharmaceutical packages. Researchers at Aalto University are investigating new strategies for an efficient recollection of aluminum from waste pharmaceutical blisters with the main goal of achieving sustainable and improved circular economy of metals. Recently, a physical separation process was developed to recover ~90% of the aluminum with ~99.4% purity from the waste pharmaceutical blisters. The energy consumption of the process was almost half of the energy consumed during primary aluminum production at a laboratory scale.