Stora Enso – How OTC brand owners can sustainably package their products


To better understand the perspectives of brand owners and processors on over-the-counter pharmaceutical and wellness product packaging, we recently conducted research among key stakeholders in the field. During these conversations, we discovered some confusion surrounding the sustainability of packaging materials. In this article, we’ll share some of our findings and help clarify some of the benefits and challenges of over-the-counter packaging sustainability. We will also cover the results of an LCA study we recently conducted on fiber-based pharmaceutical packaging.

For over-the-counter (OTC) brand owners, packaging is key: high quality and safety standards mean strict attention to protecting the product inside. On crowded shelves, it’s important to stand out with packaging that sparks interest, reflects such high standards and communicates vital product information. Additionally, today’s over-the-counter brands and their retailers are looking to improve the sustainability of their packaging and adapt to the rise of e-commerce.

How to sustainably meet the physical requirements of over-the-counter packaging? There are many considerations when evaluating the sustainability of packaging – and not just limited to the packaging material itself. The true impact of these materials can be studied with verifiable methods like Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). OTC producers and packers need to partner with the right experts who know the end use to come up with safe, strong and durable packaging solutions.

Sustainable OTC packaging – what’s the way forward?

Packaging begins with the choice of base material. When planning a new sustainable packaging solution, growers should consider the following material considerations:

What base material will be used? Is it renewable, like a wood fiber material, or is it of fossil origin?

Is the material designed for circularity? Is it recyclable?

Does the raw material contain recycled content and can it be traced back to its source?

Does the material meet end-use requirements, for example, is it strong enough to resist tearing and tolerate moisture?

Choose renewable materials

Brand owners have the choice between renewable materials, such as wood fibres, or materials of fossil origin. In many examples of OTC packaging, multiple materials are used, including plastic, cardboard, and aluminum foil. This is particularly the case when primary and secondary packaging are used. Plastic ranks high in the OTC category due to its price and product protection performance. However, it is possible to drastically reduce the plastic and replace it with cardboard, while obtaining the same physical properties. Today’s design possibilities, combined with a strong fiber-based material, can produce a wide range of attractive and high-performance packaging concepts, such as cardboard tubes or containers. To learn more about choosing between fresh or recycled fibres, download the white paper here.

Material source and recycled content

Adding recycled content to packaging may seem like a step towards sustainability progress, but it’s not a simple “either or else” decision.

In fiber-based packaging materials, OTC producers and packers have a choice between fresh and recycled fibers. Both are recyclable and the origin of the fresh fibers can be traced to sustainably managed forests. However, the true environmental impact of packaging depends on several factors other than the underlying material. For example, recycling and recycled materials ensure that fibers are used multiple times and not thrown away after one use, but materials made from recycled fibers are often heavier because they require more fibers to achieve the desired strength. for end use. This can impact carbon footprint, transportation costs and material usage.

Recycled fibers can also pose a challenge for line conversion and affect runnability, as well as causing dust during the conversion process. The material made from recycled fibers can be used for secondary OTC packaging because it does not come into contact with the product, for example, when a plastic blister is used. It is also a good choice for tertiary packaging in the case of e-commerce.

Consideration of recyclability

It is important to assess not only the recyclability of the packaging material itself, but also the collection rates and the infrastructure where the product is marketed and sold. For example, in Europe Where recycling infrastructure is excellent, paper and cardboard is 83% recycled, an advantage for fiber-based secondary and tertiary packaging. Additionally, the conversion process can also impact recyclability through packaging design and the addition of laminates, glues and inks.

All At Stora Enso materials are designed and tested for recyclability, helping customers meet their circularity goals and sustainability expectations.

Understand the climate impact of fresh and recycled fibers through a verified LCA study

The true environmental impact of packaging is only partly due to the raw material used. Other factors throughout the life cycle, such as converting cartons to packaging and transportation, contribute to overall sustainability. Yet, by examining specific product examples using LCA, we can quantify the impact and begin to make informed decisions about the sustainability of packaging materials.

For example, a recent third-party verified LCA commissioned by Stora Enso compared the environmental performance of our fresh fiber-based Tambrite to the average European white particleboard made from partially recycled fiber. The study focused on secondary pharmaceutical packaging as an end use. The data was collected from converters and the study is based on primary data rather than assumptions about differences.

The results revealed that Tambrite pharmaceutical packaging offered better climate performance compared to WLCs with an 18% lower carbon footprint. Materials made from recycled fibers are always advantageous in that they are both renewable and recyclable – an advantage over fossil-based materials. However, the white lined particle board requires more material to match the stiffness of the Tambrite and therefore adds more weight to the wrapped package – 30% more in the case of this LCA.

Maintaining strength and durability

Since product protection is the most important feature of OTC packaging, strength and durability cannot be compromised when choosing a packaging material. Neither can be sacrificed when designing packaging for sustainability, as these products often require a high degree of protection from light and moisture. Failure to properly package OTC products results in damage and waste. With expert help, OTC packaging can be optimized to design unnecessary materials while maintaining necessary strength, helping to minimize your overall packaging footprint.

Tambrite made from fresh fibers by Stora Enso, for example, is a cardboard material that is very resistant, light and constantly tested in the pharmaceutical market. When combined with a blister pack, paperboard like Tambrite can create the ultimate sustainable low plastic packaging solution that can support this demanding end use.

Your brand is unique, so is your solution

At Stora Enso Packaging Materials, we have worked with producers of over-the-counter pharmaceutical and wellness products for decades, such as outer packaging and other cartons of various sizes and shapes. Over the years and in collaboration with our customers, we have optimized packaging with features such as Braille writing, ultra-fast drying inkjet printing and sheeting, and lightweighting. To ensure our materials meet the most stringent quality and performance requirements, we offer ongoing technical customer service and expert design support through Packaging Connects.

Part of the global bioeconomy, Stora Enso is a leading supplier of renewable products in packaging, biomaterials, wood construction and paper, and one of the largest private forest owners in the world. We believe that anything made from fossil materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow. Stora Enso has approximately 22,000 employees and our sales in 2021 were €10.2 billion. Stora Enso shares are listed on Nasdaq Helsinki Oy (STEAV, STERV) and Nasdaq Stockholm AB (STE A, STE R). In addition, the shares are traded on the UNITED STATES as ADR (SEOAY).


Telephone: +358 2046 111


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