JAPAN — The four biggest pharmaceutical companies in Japan, Astellas Pharma Inc., Eisai Co., Daiichi Sankyo Company, and Takeda Pharmaceutical have agreed to collaborate to reduce environmental burden in the field of pharmaceutical packaging.

The companies aim to ensure that society benefits from this collaboration to harmonize corporate activities with the global environment.

Based on the agreement, the four companies will aim to promote the use of more environmentally friendly packaging for pharmaceutical products by sharing knowledge on packaging technologies to reduce environmental burden.

One example is blister packs made of biomass-based plastic instead of petroleum-derived plastic, compact packaging, recycled packaging materials, and recyclable packaging materials.

In the future, the four companies expect to expand this collaboration beyond the four companies by calling on other companies in order to reduce further environmental burden.

The collaboration comes as the pharmaceutical industry is increasingly being forced to confront its environmental impact, after years of avoiding scrutiny as a major manufacturer of goods.

According to a Forbes report released last year in the aftermath of the COP26 UN climate talks, the 15 largest pharmaceutical manufacturers emitted 55% more carbon dioxide equivalents per million dollars of revenue than the automotive sector in 2015.

While there are significant differences between companies, studies have suggested that the industry as a whole would need to cut emissions by 59% from 2015 levels in order to meet the goals outlined in the same year’s Paris agreement.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical products produce non-biodegradable waste materials known as environmentally persistent pharmaceutical pollutants (EPPPs) with biological activity that has been shown to harm ecosystems.

Industries approach to reducing carbon footprint

Astellas has set “Deepen our engagement in sustainability” as one of the strategic goals in its Corporate Strategic Plan 2021.

Eisai has formed a medium- to long-term plan for environmental issues including efficient use of water and recycling of resources under the “Eisai Environmental Management Vision” formed in this fiscal year.

It will work to further advance these efforts, in addition to climate change countermeasures aimed at achieving carbon neutrality by fiscal 2040.

Daiichi Sankyo considers global environmental conservation as the basis of life and livelihood, a key management issue (Materiality), and promotes environmental management.

At Takeda, “Purpose-led Sustainability” is about creating both business and societal value through its core business.

Takeda continues to reduce its operational carbon footprint and is now committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for scopes 1 and 2 before 2035 and for scope 3 before 2040.

Pharmaceutical companies are currently investigating bio-based and renewable materials. One recent advancement is the use of ethylene derived from sugarcane – a carbon-negative process that uses CO2 and releases oxygen when grown.

With regards to this development, Takeda has been recognized for use of bio-polyethylene — a plastic derived from plant-based bioethanol — in pharmaceutical primary packaging at its Hikari site in Japan.

Manufacturing bottles made with bio-PE plastic emit up to 70 percent fewer CO2 emissions compared to petroleum-based polyethylene bottles.

Braskem, one of the leading producers of so-called ‘Green PE,’ currently produces 440 million pounds (approximately 200 million kilograms) of sustainable plastic each year, which is estimated to equate to a two billion-pound (907,184,740 kgs) CO2 reduction per year when compared to traditional ethylene sourcing processes.

Other industry developments include increased use of 100% recyclable aluminum foil, the elimination of secondary packaging for solid-dose drugs in glass containers, and the transition to digital package inserts.

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