Improving management of single-use products being consumed and discarded
Environmental awareness concerning plastic waste is at the forefront of society. Consumers and professionals alike are gravely concerned about reducing environmental impact. In less than 60 years, plastic has become the most ubiquitous material in our environment, and we are just beginning to measure its detrimental effects on human and animal health.
Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled worldwide and 12% is incinerated. This is all the more alarming because 42% of these plastics have served only as single-use packaging.
In Canada, we produce close to 80 tons of waste per minute and almost half comes from single-use products. We also fill 250 million prescriptions in non eco-friendly packaging generating more than 700 tons of plastic waste and 124 tons of cardboard waste.
The standards for drug packaging are regulated by Health Canada with the purpose to avoid all risk of contamination and ensure public safety. For more than 10 years, EcoloPharm has raised the environmental issue of single-use packaging and developed eco-designed solutions that greatly reduce environmental impact.
Fighting myths about plastic recyclability
Most packaging is now recyclable, but is it really recycled?
Today the majority of plastics are recyclable. Whether they are truly recycled remains a key question. Recycling facilities specialize in the sorting of various materials determined by market demand for these very materials. Therefore the market demand for materials determines if a recycling facility will actually collect a material or simply dispose of it in a landfill. The most universally recycled plastics in Canada are PET (polyester), HDPE (polyethylene) and PP (polypropylene). EcoloPharm was the first prescription packaging company to manufacture products using polypropylene.
To ensure complete recyclability, the plastic must not be mixed with other plastics, carton or metals. It is therefore essential that manufacturers reflect on the end-of-life management of their products and packaging and how they can diminish their overall footprint. Over the past decade this reflection has guided EcoloPharm in our effort to innovate and minimize our impact.
To safeguard the actual recyclability of a product or packaging, it is necessary to ensure that a product design and subsequent manufacturing process respect several fundamental principles:
- The product should be single-material not be mixed with other plastics, carton or metals. Recyclable plastic is always clean and uncontaminated.
- The product must contain as little material as possible and this material must be easily recycled at the end of its life.
Another myth: the use of biodegradable plastics is an environmentally friendly and effective solution.
Not necessarily. When a biodegradable plastic ends up in a recycling facility it is considered a contaminant to other plastics. Biodegradable plastics were designed to degrade in optimal landfill conditions and cannot be recycled. Even when they do end up in the landfill, the optimal conditions for adequate degradation are rarely met.
The same goes for compostable materials. They are considered grave contaminants in the recycling process. Compostable materials also face the same challenges as biodegradable plastics when it comes to optimal conditions for proper degradation.
The findings are distressing but the use of biodegradable or compostable materials is not the solution to the over packaging problem we are facing. If the appropriate infrastructure is not put into place, it is virtually impossible for these materials to biodegrade.
Ecodesigned and recyclable packaging
The solution for better plastic management lies in the eco-conception of products.
The ecodesign approach is based on reducing packaging at the source and drastically improving recyclability. Ecodesign of a product generates the lowest carbon footprint and better manages the end-of-life of the product.
By insisting that prescriptions be filled in EcoloPharm ecodesigned packaging, we can reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in recycling facilities by 30%.
Did you know ?
- Less than 11 per cent of all plastics are recycled in Canada.
- Of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste.
Unfortunately no. Because our products hold medication, we are subject to the very stringent standards of Health Canada. It is therefore not legal for EcoloPharm to manufacture products made from recycled plastic.
However, our products are fully recyclable
The only valid option today is plastic, regardless of the supplier and of the pharmacy.
Thanks to our eco-friendly design, we are happy to offer the most eco-friendly vial on the market: Requiring the least amount of plastic and generating the least amount of CO2.
Our vials are also fully recyclable
The short answer is no. It is necessary to unravel certain myths or preconceived ideas about these three concepts and the confusion they bring. Although they may seem similar, the three terms actually refer to three very distinct concepts:
From the outset, it must be emphasized that there is still no fixed definition of what a bioplastic is. However, this term refers to materials of two types:
- Plastics made of biobased material are derived from biomass and renewable resources such as plants. The interest raised by biosourced plastics refers precisely to the renewable nature of the supply of raw materials. This is the upstream of the product life cycle and it aims to reduce pollution at the source.
- Plastics made of biodegradable materials which under ideal conditions are compostable. Biodegradation means degradation achieved through the action of living organisms such as bacteria or fungi. This refers to the end of life of plastic and it aims to reduce the pollution generated by the product once it is no longer useful. Some bioplastics have both characteristics: they are both biobased and biodegradable.
- Not all bioplastics are biodegradable. Think of products that must last for a long period of time, such as water pipes or some interior parts of cars. There are also biodegradable plastics that come from fossil resources and have a petrochemical transformation
In contrast, biodegradable bioplastics are typically used for disposable items (e.g., catering products such as dishes and straws).
However biodegradable bioplastics pose some major problems. They are not recyclable with "traditional" plastics and when they end up in your recycling bin and become contaminants!
In addition, biodegradation can be extremely slow if optimal conditions are not met. Our current facilities in Canada rarely meet the necessary conditions for full biodegradation and more often than not it is not achieved. Subsequently, the accumulation of harmful substances persisting in the environment contaminate our soil, water, and air and pose a significant risk.
These are the main reasons that prevent companies from using biodegradable plastics: the contamination of recyclable plastics and little chance of biodegradation.
We work closely with different vendors to keep abreast of industry innovations and evaluate various options available.