How the pharmaceutical industry can be more sustainable

It might not seem like it, but the pharmaceutical industry is actually a high pollution emitting industry, even compared to other industries like automotive. This is likely because the automotive industry uses AI-powered robots, digital product visualisation technologies and workflow-managing algorithms and connectivity.  

As a result, this reduces waste in energies, costs, and time, boosting the efficiency of a product’s manufacturing and journey to market. There are ways the pharmaceutical industry can become more sustainable too, which we will be exploring in this article. 

Why is pharmaceutical pollution so high? 

Every industry is trying to evolve and become more sustainable to help the planet, but pharmaceutical companies especially encounter a number of barriers. For example, manufacturing operations use a lot of energy, there is single-use packaging that has to adhere to strict safety criteria, and the chemistry used in producing the drugs is often not sustainable due to the chemicals becoming pollutants. It’s a lot to try and navigate to become more sustainable, but with the help of experienced pharmaceutical plant design consultants like the team at FESS it can be done effectively. 

How can pharmaceutical companies become more sustainable? 

There is a lot more involved in sustainability than just better packaging, the brand must be built from the ground up, at every step of the process. Anything from manufacturing to brand positioning and messaging will almost certainly have to be innovated in order to achieve a circular supply chain. 

Environmental manufacturing 

The first step in forming a sustainable brand is ensuring products are being produced as sustainably as possible. Pharmaceuticals are a key global polluter, emitting roughly 55% more than the automotive sector. One way to tackle the pollution being generated is by finding ways to make manufacturing greener and ensure there is a good manufacturing practice in place moving forward.  

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the top global green building rating system, providing a structure for cost-effective eco-friendly construction. When it comes to pharmaceutical engineering, large amounts of energy are used, so more companies are turning to LEED certification to verify that the design, construction, operations, and maintenance in a building are resource efficient. 

Green chemistry 

Along with manufacturing processes and energy consumption, pharmaceutical companies should also look at the chemicals they are using to make the finished products. When developing and manufacturing drugs, waste should be kept to a minimum as much as possible, the use of hazardous substances should be reduced, and there should be a clear focus on the safety of workers and their environment. 

Another potential issue relating to pharmaceuticals and sustainability is the opportunity for chemicals to end up in the environment. This can happen by the drugs being excreted by patients who are taking them, or as waste from formulation and creation of active pharmaceutical ingredients. 

Packaging design and materials 

With changes being made to the previous factors, it’s important to consider the long-term effects of packaging on the environment. The pharmaceutical industry’s numerous safety regulations make it difficult for firms to create sustainable packaging designs. 

Packages that hold medicine need to be tamper resistant and the majority of products are required to be thrown away after one use. Reusing or refilling is normally not an option, while in other industries it is a more straightforward solution to single-use packaging. Other paths are possible though, especially for creating new packaging materials. Polyolefin laminate packaging is one such example; it’s 70% recyclable and includes different types of pharmaceutical product packaging. 

Many companies might assume there would be more cost involved and investment in more pharmaceutical processing equipment and materials. However, since it uses less raw materials than standard blister packaging, using polyolefin laminate can reduce related costs for businesses by up to 60%. 

Recycling networks 

When products are made and packaged, companies have to also consider the environmental effects of your overall supply chain, from transportation to distribution and disposal. There is increasing demand for over-the-counter medicine, meaning single-use packaging is being used more as well. None of the materials used in this type of packing can be easily recycled. However, there are ways for pharmaceutical companies to improve their recycling efforts and become more sustainable. They must not only think about create ways to recycle but upcycling and repurposing materials too, which isn’t always easy and bringing in expert help will be highly beneficial. 


There are many ways pharmaceutical companies can be more sustainable as we can see from the examples above. For many businesses though, it isn’t easy to implement new practices that still meet all the necessary regulations, which is where FESS can help. Our consultants have extensive knowledge and experience in factory design and helping businesses become as efficient, cost effective, and sustainable as possible in a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals. Contact us today to see how we can help you or book a free site survey online to get started. 

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