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October 7, 2016

3 Min Read
Cardinal Health takes 2016 award for excellence in reusable packaging

Innovation in medical packaging tends to happen on the safety front and in user-friendly design that can help healthcare personnel perform their duties more efficiently or, in the case of drugs, improve patient compliance. Sustainability on the other hand, while desirable, is not as much of a priority as it is in other sectors. It’s not that healing humans and helping the planet are mutually exclusive, but it’s not a simple matter to check every box. So, it’s all the more noteworthy that Cardinal Health (Dublin, OH) recently received the 2016 Excellence in Reusable Packaging Award from the Reusable Packaging Association (RPA; Tampa, FL).

An independent panel of judges, none of whom are RPA members, lauded Cardinal Health for its “innovative approach to the safe, efficient and sustainable delivery of refrigerated pharmaceuticals,” noted a news release. In a crowded field of innovators, Cardinal Health stood out for the “significant business and environmental results” it achieved, said Tim Debus, RPA President and CEO. “In fact, our judges cited the impressive impact demonstrated in multiple areas, including material safety, material reuse, ergonomics, fuel/emissions and cost savings as key factors in their selection,” added Debus.

Cardinal Health safely and sustainably delivers temperature-sensitive drugs to more than 24,000 retail outlets every day. Image courtesy Jason Miller/flickr.

Cardinal Health delivers refrigerated pharmaceuticals to more than 24,000 retail chain and independent pharmacies every day. Temperature-related product spoilage cost the company $4 million annually, and single-use shipping materials were also a significant cost burden. The company partnered with Sonoco ThermoSafe, a developer of temperature assurance packaging, to develop cost-effective packaging that could maintain product within narrow temperature levels and reduce the overall environmental impact. Sonoco ThermoSafe is a subsidiary of Sonoco, a $5 billion global provider of consumer packaging, industrial products, protective packaging and packaging supply chain services.

Reusable plastic totes with replaceable molded expanded polystyrene liners were already the Cardinal Health standard. The water-based coolant gel-packs within the totes, however, were replaced with plant-based PureTemp phase change materials to improve temperature control. Additionally, a custom-designed, ergonomically friendly, reusable bulk pallet shipper that allows both refrigerated and controlled room temperature product to ship on the same truck was developed. This solution allows Cardinal to avoid the expense of multiple vehicle shipments or moveable bulkheads to create separate temperature environments. Bottom line: Product spoilage was reduced by 90%, the phase change coolant packs are used an average of 87 times each, and the bulk shippers are used an average of 192 times and counting. Today, Cardinal Health ships $18 billion in refrigerated pharmaceuticals in 6.5 million reusable totes per year, while saving $5.6 million and avoiding $9.3 million in additional cost.

“We have worked very hard across our network to reduce packaging waste through the use of sustainable, reusable packing components that protect costly refrigerated pharmaceuticals,” said Chris Anderson, Director of Quality Systems for Cardinal Health. “High quality, qualified, durable, reusable, and sustainable packaging is a must to protect the product while remaining operationally effective. Additionally, reusable packaging reduces the waste that our customers are left to dispose of as well as saves landfill space. While we have been recognized for innovative solutions to maintain temperature and prevent product spoilage, it is also gratifying to be recognized for the sustainability benefits of our approach.” 

Cardinal Health will give a presentation on its award-winning entry at the RPA Reusable Packaging Learning Center at Pack Expo International in Chicago on November 8, 2016.

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