It’s no secret that consumers are demanding environmentally friendly products and packaging, including over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. In April, GSK Consumer Healthcare announced its commitment to reduce the plastic in over 80 million Advil bottles by 20% (annual volume), which the company claims will result in an annual reduction of nearly 500,000 pounds of plastic in the environment.
The updated bottles are already available in retail stores in the United States. The Advil portfolio will be available online and in retail stores nationwide through 2022, with the exception of Advil’s “easy open” bottles. “The first focus was on the USA, because that’s where we have our largest Advil business and can make the biggest contribution to saving plastic,” says Sarah McDonald, Vice President for Sustainability at GSK Consumer Healthcare. “So that was the first focus, and then we’ll move on to other regions from there.”
Healthcare Packaging spoke (virtually) to McDonald to discuss the project, goals and more.
According to GSK, the initiative is the first sustainable plastic technology of its kind for OTC drugs. This new barrier resin technology reduces the amount of resin required to mold and manufacture the high density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles while maintaining the same barrier protection properties. HDPE is recyclable on Stream # 2 in the US
This is achieved through a nucleating agent added to the resin itself – GSK worked with Dow and Milliken on the materials side and Alltrista Plastics on the component manufacturing side. “We have a bimodal HDPE resin and by adding this agent we can reduce the amount of plastic we use to make the bottles while maintaining the same protective barrier properties,” explains McDonald. “This means that we don’t need a discrete barrier layer so that the recyclability is not impaired.”
This change in material enables a reduction in material consumption for HDPE bottles by 20%, while all critical performance characteristics of the bottle are retained. Alltrista forms bottles using the compression blow molding process (CBF) – GSK did not have to purchase any new machines. (CBF continuously extrudes plastic, cuts it into “lumps” and transfers the lumps into press cavities, where they are pressed into preforms and stretch-blown into finished bottles.)
“The success of our reduction is a combination of materials and a more precise shaping with CBF, which allows an even distribution of the remaining resin,” explains Edward Candelaria, technical manager of the project and director of packaging technology CH Americas at GSK. Regardless of the resin change and CBF, GSK also reduced the weight of the caps by 11% (process and materials remained the same).
Says McDonald, “It took extensive testing to be certain that we had the reduction we wanted and the level of protection we needed. It also took a lot of testing to make sure we were able to meet regulatory requirements. It was about seven years of work behind the scenes together with our partners on the material side and on the production side of the injection molded parts. “
“We are very excited to bring this to market and are also proud of the work of our partners. We could not have achieved this without our partners Dow, Milliken and Alltrista. It’s been a team effort and we’re really excited to see this on store shelves as consumers increasingly want more products that use less plastic – they are very conscious of their footprint and want recyclable plastics. There’s a lot more to come, but we’re excited to have it hit the shelves now in Advil’s largest market in the United States.She notices.
Speaking of consumers, communicating sustainability improvements is key. “In the beginning, the communication that is taking place now and around Earth Day is digital because it will take some time for the change to hit the shelves,” she says. “There is banner advertising on the pages of our partner dealers and communication on advil.com. Then, when more of the reduced plastic bottles hit the shelves, we will communicate in the store to highlight the change. Of course, we want to do that when a critical mass of the updated bottles is on the store shelf.”
Other future goals
Advil’s new sustainability goal is part of GSK, SK’s broader ambitions Reducing our plastic footprint by 8,000 tons per year and ensuring that 100% of the packaging is recyclable or reusable, provided that quality and safety allow it.
The focus on plastic and packaging is determined by the requirements of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – GSK joined the Ellen MacArthur Network in 2020 Goals. Advil’s move to the new 20% less plastic bottles uses a unique sustainable plastic technology for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and launches a number of plastic reduction initiatives across GSK’s product portfolio, ”says McDonalds.
In addition to reducing 8,000 tons, they are currently looking into how to use this resin technology in other locations. “It’s been a lot developed and it’s a really great technology given the triple benefits: less plastic, the same barrier properties, and no impact on recyclability,” she says. “That is why we are examining where we can use this in other areas and are pursuing other ways of reducing or avoiding plastic.”
Another focus of GSK is promoting the use of renewable energies, including on-site power generation when conditions permit. In 2020 GSK announced new ecological sustainability goals for climate and nature, “with the goal of having a net zero effect on the climate and a net positive impact on nature by 2030”, according to the company.
“We want to use 100% renewable electricity at our production sites by 2030, and there is an entire program running in our supply chain to achieve this goal,” says McDonald. “At some locations, investments are being made in renewable electricity generation directly on site with the installation of solar collectors. Of course, that depends on the conditions on site, whether there is space and whether there is enough sunshine to make the installation feasible. Some developments of such websites include:
- GSK’s on-site solar power generation in Cape Town went into operation in February 2020.
- The company’s on-site solar system in Nairobi is scheduled to go into operation in May 2021.
- A location in Brazil will go live around mid-2021.
The company has a rolling program that invests in local capacities. At the same time, work is being carried out on purchase contracts to obtain renewable electricity where it is not possible to generate it locally.
As highlighted in the November 2020 announcement, GSK is making the connection between protecting and restoring the health of the planet to protect and improve human health. McDonald concluded: “As a global leader in consumer healthcare, we at GSK are proud to be converting Advil to more environmentally friendly packaging, thereby continuing to support GSK’s commitment to sustainability.”