In an era of environmental awareness, the pharmaceutical industry is at a crossroads. With the ‘Green Health Movement’ highlighting the sector’s contribution to 4.4% of global CO2 emissions, the move towards sustainable packaging is not just preferable, it is essential. The industry faces a stark reality: hospitals, pharmaceutical giants and medical device manufacturers are significant contributors to climate change, with the healthcare sector potentially the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, according to PWC’s 2022 report.

The urgent need for sustainable packaging

The industry’s immense footprint, evidenced by the staggering 8 tonnes of waste generated by the average hospital each day (EY), signals an urgent need for change. The European Green Deal aims to drive EU member states towards carbon neutrality by 2050, with a key interim target of a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Material innovations: Beyond the basics

The road to sustainability is paved with innovation in materials and design. Biodegradable plastics and recycled materials are becoming the norm rather than the exception. The EU’s amending Directive (EU) 2018/852 has already set binding recycling targets for packaging waste – 50% for plastics by the end of 2025 and 55% by the end of 2030, with similarly ambitious targets for paper and cardboard. Medical devices are not exempt from this directive.

New legislation and tendering requirements

On 30 November 2022, the EU Commission proposed a new regulation on packaging and packaging waste, setting an overall target to reduce packaging waste by 15% per capita by 2040 and to make all packaging fully recyclable by 2030. This proposal is being discussed under the ordinary legislative procedure and is expected to be adopted by 2024.

The leading Nordic model

The Nordic countries have emerged as leaders in sustainable healthcare packaging. In 2022, they published the “Nordic Criteria for More Sustainable Packaging”, sending a strong market signal and giving clear direction to suppliers. These criteria help public tenderers to set packaging-specific sustainability standards, and there are plans to extend these criteria across Europe.

Competitive advantage through sustainability

Medical device manufacturers that incorporate these sustainability criteria can secure a competitive advantage. As procurement co-operatives include sustainability issues in their tender documents, healthcare products and their packaging will become more sustainable. Companies that take these criteria into account will not only gain in market competitiveness, but also in fulfilling their corporate social responsibility.


In conclusion, sustainable packaging is an imperative development for the pharmaceutical industry. It is in line with the compelling “Green Health Movement” and meets the stringent objectives of the European Green Deal. By moving to greener packaging, the industry can ensure regulatory compliance, enhance brand reputation and make a meaningful contribution to the global fight against climate change. The message is clear: the future of pharmaceuticals lies in sustainable packaging solutions that respect our planet and promote health in every sense.