Practical solutions for sustainability in drug delivery

The very nature of healthcare, and in particular, pharma, makes sustainability particularly challenging. Patient safety and drug efficacy should remain the greatest priority for healthcare organisations and practitioners, but how do we find the balance between creating a more sustainable future in the drug delivery device sector while also maintaining product quality and safety? 


Alex Fong, Head of Insight & Olivia Houselander, Business Development Manager - Owen Mumford Pharmaceutical Services

Olivia Houselander

By Alex Fong
– Head of Insight, Owen Mumford Pharmaceutical Services.


Olivia Houselander
– Business Development Manager, Owen Mumford Pharmaceutical Services.

Getting around the problem of plastic in single-use medical devices

The EU has taken action to ban many single-use items; however, the vital role that they play in healthcare means that there is more leniency for their use in the medical industry. While this is unlikely to change any time soon, we can expect that our use of single-use plastics will come under far greater scrutiny.

The best place to start is arguably the classification of medical plastics into groups according to their ability to be successfully substituted without compromising safety, sterility or utility. Since around 70% of medical plastic waste is made up of commodity plastics used to make tubing, films, packaging, face masks and more [i], the industry would do best to focus their sustainability efforts here. Syringes, on the other hand, account for just one part of the remaining 30%, and are instrumental in safe and controlled drug delivery so should be a lower priority in the transition to more sustainable materials.

Incorporating sustainability at design level

With clinical demand for single-use medical devices growing, [ii] the most sensible path to greater sustainability requires considering and embedding it right from the design level.

Safe recovery of drug delivery devices and dealing with contamination are two of the greatest barriers to implementing effective recycling. However, issues with the design itself can also make recycling much harder and more costly – namely the mixed polymer types that require special sorting [iii], and the difficulty with which auto-injectors are dismantled (a purposeful design characteristic to prevent tampering and enhance user safety). These issues can be addressed in the design stage.

Embedding sustainability into the product lifecycle

While recycling is the very final stage of the product lifecycle, there are plenty of opportunities for manufacturers to embed other sustainability practices much earlier, such as material selection, packaging, and the manufacture and transportation of devices. Organisations already carefully consider each stage of the product lifecycle, and by extending disciplines to evaluate energy efficiency, environmental impact and more, device manufacturers can show their commitment to ramping up their sustainability efforts.

Meeting halfway on reusability

One viable design for reusable auto-injectors comprises a minimum disposable unit, meeting the required regulatory and hygiene standards that make the treatment safe, within a reliably reusable ‘shell’. This helps to drive down the carbon footprint of manufacturing costs by reducing quantity, as well as the amount of waste going to landfill or incineration. Meanwhile, healthcare providers and patients can benefit from delivery devices that offer maximum reusability.

Introducing Aidaptus: the first step in sustainable drug delivery

A further effective way of minimising the environmental impact of drug delivery devices is to make them as versatile as possible. The Aidaptus autoinjector has been designed with this in mind, providing pharmaceutical manufacturers with the option to modify drug volumes and viscosities, without needing to change their selected delivery device. Formulation and dosage changes during the development and lifecycle of injectable drug products are common. Aidaptus’ flexibility reduces the work and risk associated with these changes, such as additional verification testing, human factor studies and regulatory documentation for a new device choice. This is in addition to reducing environmental impact at the manufacturing level (by opting for a single platform for multiple applications), which makes a significant contribution to sustainability efforts without any compromise on safety or efficacy.

Planning for the future today

Undoubtedly, practical judgements have to be made about the feasibility of actions to minimise the environmental impact of drug delivery devices, which have a critical role in treating chronic illnesses. However, companies must also continue to monitor developments, as the industry develops a strategic roadmap towards more sustainable alternatives. By incorporating sustainable materials and processes wherever possible, drug delivery systems such as Aidaptus not only maximise their eco-friendliness but also contribute to the broader goal of creating a more environmentally conscious and socially responsible healthcare sector.

  • Find out more about Owen Mumford’s commitment to sustainability in their 2024 Impact Report.

[i] Blessy, J. James, J et al. (2021). Recycling of medical plastics.

[ii]Straits Research. Single-Use Medical Device Reprocessing Market.,period%20(2023%2D2031).

[iii] Zoe O.G. Schyns and Michael P. Shaver, Mechanical Recycling of Packaging Plastics: A Review.