Transforming Pharmaceutical Packaging with Sustainable, Cutting-Edge Solutions

Transforming Pharmaceutical Packaging with Sustainable, Cutting-Edge Solutions

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Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies is bringing science to life sustainably and moving forward in three focus areas — climate initiatives, design for sustainability, and stewardship. The introduction of Corning® Viridian® Vials marks a significant step toward achieving this mission, offering a high-performance, sustainable alternative for pharmaceutical packaging. These innovative vials are designed to integrate seamlessly into existing systems while potentially decreasing environmental impact by reducing the end user’s Scope 3 emissions by up to 30%. Equipped with a unique, proprietary external coating, Viridian vials boost efficiency on production lines, mitigate damage to the container, and substantially lower the generation of glass particulates — outpacing the traditional Type I borosilicate vials in both sustainability and functionality.

Prioritizing Sustainability in Pharma

Historically, the pharmaceutical sector has trailed behind other industries in vigorously addressing environmental sustainability. However, the tide is changing. Acknowledgement of the need to mitigate the environmental footprint of pharmaceutical processes — from development and manufacturing to distribution — is growing. This shift is embodied by efforts like the Sustainable Markets Initiative, which united a diverse coalition of over 500 entities, including global companies and leaders, to establish and pursue ambitious sustainability benchmarks for the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector.

An inflection point occurred in 2023 when executives from prominent pharma and life sciences companies joined forces within the Sustainable Markets Initiative Health Systems Task Force. The task force penned a candid open letter1 to the industry's suppliers, highlighting the pharmaceutical sector's sizeable environmental imprint: the industry is responsible for roughly 5% of climate change factors, with supply chains contributing a significant portion of that impact. This collaborative call to action emphasized the urgency of setting and achieving robust sustainability goals.

Many suppliers to pharmaceutical companies are already on this path, ambitiously integrating sustainability criteria into their strategies. It's no longer just about the immediate utility of a product; the focus has expanded to encompass the environmental ethos of suppliers and their capability to support the client's sustainability objectives.

Attention has been particularly directed toward reducing the impact of secondary packaging, such as cartons, labels, packaging inserts, and other packing materials. More recently, the industry has begun to tackle the more complex challenge of primary packaging. This shift presents a more significant hurdle, owing to the stringent requirements associated with materials that are in direct contact with medicinal products. Every change must be carefully weighed to ensure safety, efficacy, and environmental responsibility.

Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy at Corning

For over 170 years, Corning has emphasized safety, innovation, and community engagement, but a commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship has become increasingly important to the company in recent years. As an extension of Corning’s longstanding commitment to functioning as a responsible partner, the company has increasingly explored novel ways to support their customers’ sustainability goals. This commitment is evident in the company’s growing focus on renewable energy, waste reduction, and the creation of products with sustainable features, all crafted in close collaboration with their customers.

Corning’s approach to sustainability integrates product innovation with practicality to achieve wider adoption without compromising quality. This includes a commitment to ambitious environmental goals, aiming for a 30% reduction in direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1 and 2) and a 17.5% absolute reduction in the broader emissions (Scope 3) from the 2021 baseline by the year 2028. This comprehensive strategy extends through their entire value chain, including the procurement of goods and services, production of capital goods, and management of fuel and energy resources, as well as logistics.

In harmony with the Paris Agreement and the Science Based Targets initiative (a partnership between the Carbon Disclosure Project, United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute, and World Wide Fund for Nature), Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies is dedicated to a sustainability ethos that spans from design and product development through manufacturing and shipping. Recognizing the finite nature of our planet’s resources and the pressing issue of climate change, they are reimagining product development altogether. “Corning’s approach to sustainability is not merely an aspect of our work,” explains Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies’ product manager, Jessica Buday. “It is core to our innovation process now, promoting a novel mindset when it comes to areas like material selection and manufacturing process optimizations, and that thinking fosters a culture of environmental consciousness across the organization.”

Innovating Sustainable Solutions in Pharmaceutical Packaging

At the core of Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies is a commitment to innovation, and that innovation is fueling their ability to develop sustainability programs and products that minimize environmental impact without sacrificing quality or performance. This includes efforts to revolutionize pharmaceutical glass packaging: looking beyond manufacturing processes to reduce emissions and expanding the search  for improvement opportunities at every stage.

The innovative design of Corning® Viridian® glass vials took shape under the guiding principles of form, fit, and function. Each aspect was engineered to meet international standards and seamlessly integrate with current drug product filling systems and the full range of pharmaceutical processing steps, such as terminal sterilization, lyophilization, and cold storage conditions, including extremely low temperatures. A crucial design requirement was that the vials serve as direct replacements for current Type I borosilicate glass products, the standard glass vial primary packaging for most injectable drug products, to ensure optimal compatibility and ease of transition for customers.

While vials produced using less glass are on the market, they often suffer from performance and quality limitations. Viridian vials leverage a proprietary polymeric external coating technology to overcome these issues. This coating — which has been used to protect other Corning pharmaceutical glass products, such as Velocity® Vials and Valor® Glass — allows for a reduction in the thickness of the vial walls that does not impact their ability to withstand typical forces during the fill/finish manufacturing process. 

Although they are made with 20% less glass material — enabling up to a 30% reduction in cradle-to-gate Scope 3 emissions — they present a drop-in solution that effortlessly fits into pharmaceutical manufacturing that uses Type l borosilicate glass vials. The innovative coating preserves the integrity  of the vial  and  increases filling line efficiency by enabling smoother vial flow and reducing the incidence of line stoppages due to equipment jams and vial breakage. These efficiency benefits ultimately decrease both glass waste and production emissions. These gains are complemented by a commitment to renewable energy in the manufacturing supply chain for Viridian Vials.

Considering the Full Vial Life Cycle

To further validate the material and emissions reduction advantages, Corning sought to authenticate the sustainability impact of Viridian vials through a third-party–verified life cycle assessment (LCA). In this case, a "cradle to gate" LCA evaluating the environmental impacts starting with extraction of raw materials through finished product vial manufacturing was conducted by Sphera, a leading provider of environmental performance and risk management software, data, and consulting services. It should be noted that this LCA did not include the downstream impacts of distribution, use, or disposal at the end of life, which are additional user-dependent opportunities for emissions savings.

The LCA confirmed that the more sustainable design of Viridian vials, coupled with Corning’s manufacturing efficiency, significantly lowers emissions for customers using these vials in their manufacturing processes compared with traditional vials. Beyond the factory walls, these improvements also offer drug manufacturers a pathway to reduce their Scope 3 emissions — emissions that are not directly produced by the company but are associated with their operations and supply chain and are typically challenging to quantify and manage.

Reducing the wall thickness and thus the quantity of glass used in each Viridian Vial by 20% compared with conventional vials reduces cradle-to-gate Scope 3 emissions up to 30%.  Using less glass per vial reduces the natural resources (sand) consumed in their production. Furthermore, Corning estimates the reduction of pharmaceutical glass usage by 20% may prevent nearly 30,000 tons (>27 million kg) of glass from entering the waste stream each year. Less material per vial also reduces the vial’s weight, reducing CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions related to transportation, enabling more efficient use of packaging, and potentially reducing shipping costs. 

A 2-mL Viridian Vial weighs 3.5 g, compared with 4.4 g for a standard 2R ISO vial. Therefore, for every 10 million Viridian vials produced, up to 114,000 kg of CO2e emission could be avoided — the amount produced by burning >12,900 gallons (>48,830 liters) of gasoline, with the added environmental benefit of preventing nine tons of glass from reaching landfills.

The material reduction combined with 100% renewable electricity in the manufacturing process therefore enables a modest reduction in customers’ overall Scope 3 emissions.  Even when compared with conventional vials also made with 100% renewable electricity, the use of Viridian vials can reduce emissions by 15%.

Superior Performance and Durability of Viridian Vials

Vial-to-vial and glass-to-metal friction, along with vial impact events, are leading sources of reduced efficiency and yield in the drug filling process. Corning’s proprietary external coating on Viridian vials minimizes friction and shields the glass from damage, thereby reducing the likelihood of cracks, breaks, and cosmetic rejects.

Notably, they support increased filling line speed and throughput, enhancing productivity by 20–50% over traditional glass vials. The proprietary external coating significantly reduces the creation of glass particulates during fill/finish operations by 96%, which could have a significant impact on reducing drug recalls due to particulate contamination.

In a trial with Optima Pharma,2 a leading producer of fill/finish machinery, Viridian vials were put to the test. Optima assessed the rate of tip-overs, jams, and breakage among standard 2R borosilicate vials and 2-mL Custom Viridian vials, running 450 vials per minute through more than 120 cycles to simulate the processing of over 200,000 vials for each group.

These vials have demonstrated comparable or superior resistance to breakage in simulated filling line studies. For example, in the Optima trial, no breakage was observed for the Viridian vials during washing, depyrogenation, accumulation, singulation, or starwheel transfer. In addition, no functional issues were observed with washing or depyrogenation. Viridian vials also exhibited a sixfold reduction in tip-over rate compared with the conventional vials. These improvements were realized without any alterations to the existing machinery, underscoring the vials' adaptability and superior performance.

Ongoing Exploration of Extended Benefits of Viridian Vials

Since the 2023 launch of Viridian Vials, early adopters in the pharmaceutical industry have already begun to see the advantages of switching to this more sustainable option. Alongside observed improvements in the filling process, further benefits continue to be uncovered.

The innovative design (reduced wall thickness) of Viridian Vials could enhance heat transfer efficiency during lyophilization, potentially reducing cycle times and increasing throughput. This efficiency could not only reduce the cost per dose but also accelerate overall production rates.

Furthermore, the reduced wall thickness allows for filling a larger volume within the same vial size, enabling a greater quantity of medication per vial, especially for multi-dose formulations. This could lead to fewer vials used overall, increasing the sustainability of packaging and potentially delivering cost savings and productivity gains.

In commitment to environmental stewardship, Corning is actively investigating more sustainable options for the secondary packaging of Viridian Vials.

Merging High Performance with Sustainable Design

“We are committed to enacting real change, embodied by our dedication to climate initiatives, sustainable design, and responsible stewardship,” emphasizes Buday. “We look forward to forging partnerships within the pharmaceutical industry to expand the sustainability ethos across every link of the drug supply chain.”

To learn more, find additional details on Corning Viridian vials here and an expansion of Corning’s commitment to sustainability here

Reference

  1. Chard, Lucy.Pharma CEOs write open letter calling suppliers to commit to sustainability.“ CPhI Online. 20 Jul. 2023. 
  2. Polasani, Shivani.The Future of Sustainable Pharmaceutical Glass Packaging.” Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies.” Accessed 28 Apr. 2024.
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