Plastic-Free Blister Pack: A Sustainable Packaging Solution

In a world where the packaging industry is constantly evolving, finding sustainable alternatives has become a top priority. The blister pack, a common packaging solution for the pharma industry and many others, has long been associated with multiple materials including alfoil and plastic, but there’s a new and eco-friendly kid on the block – the plastic-free blister pack. If you’re curious about how this innovation is transforming the packaging landscape and what it means for the environment, consumers, and the industry as a whole, you’re in the right place.

Before we delve into the specifics, it’s important to understand why the plastic-free blister pack is worth your attention. The packaging industry is notorious for its environmental impact, with tons of plastic waste ending up in landfills or the ocean. Consumers, too, are increasingly concerned about sustainability, demanding that companies provide eco-friendly options. The plastic-free blister pack is a game-changer in this context, addressing both the environmental and consumer needs.

This article will explore the details, benefits, and implications of several innovative solutions, allowing you to make informed decisions and stay ahead in the packaging game.


1. What Is a Blister Pack?

A blister pack is a widely used form of packaging particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, but what exactly is it? We’ll start by defining blister packs and their role in the packaging industry.

Blister packs are typically made of plastic, but what other materials can be used for sustainable packaging solutions?

Blister packs, also known as blister packaging, are a popular form of packaging used to protect and display products. They consist of a plastic cavity or blister that holds the product and is usually sealed with a backing or lidding made of paperboard, plastic, or alufoil. The clear transparent plastic blister allows consumers to see the product while keeping it safe from tampering or damage. Blister packs are commonly used for packaging items like pharmaceuticals, electronics, and small consumer goods.

While blister packs are effective at showcasing products, their traditional use of plastic has raised environmental concerns. The plastic component, often made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC, is not easily recyclable and contributes to plastic waste. But, with a growing emphasis on sustainability, the packaging industry has been seeking alternatives to reduce its environmental footprint.

Sustainable blister packaging aims to provide the same protective and display features of traditional blister packs but with materials that are more eco-friendly, recyclable, and compostable. These materials might include paperboard, fibers, and biodegradable plastics. Making the switch from plastic to sustainable materials is a step in the right direction for the packaging industry.


2. The Problem with Blister Plastic Packaging

Plastic packaging has long been the go-to choice for its durability and transparency. However, it comes with a host of environmental problems. The excessive use of plastic in packaging contributes to the growing issue of plastic waste. Blister packs, with their clear plastic blisters and paperboard or alufoil backings, are no exception. In the healthcare industry alone, some 100,000 tonnes of plastic are produced globally for medicine packaging every year.

Here are some key problems associated with multi-components blister packaging:

  • Difficult-to-recycle: Traditional plastic blister packs, particularly those made from PVC, are challenging to recycle as they are made with several different materials, for example alufoil backing which is needed for its specific “push-through” mechanical properties. This means that once they are discarded in the regular trash bin, they often end up in landfills or incinerators, contributing to pollution. In the USA, these waste stream is collected by TerraCycle to be recycled. In Australia, Pharmacycle has created a complete recycling solution for used and empty medicinal blister packs. Consumers can collect their blister packs and deliver them to participating pharmacies across the country for recycling.
  • Limited sustainability: The production of plastic materials relies on fossil fuels and generates a significant carbon footprint. This not only depletes non-renewable resources but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Lack of biodegradability / compostability: Plastic packaging materials are not biodegradable. This means that they can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, causing harm to wildlife and ecosystems.
  • Consumer concerns: As consumers become more environmentally conscious, they increasingly seek products with sustainable and eco-friendly packaging. Companies that fail to meet these demands risk losing customers.

To address these issues, the packaging industry is actively seeking alternative materials and solutions that can provide the same benefits as plastic but with a lower environmental impact.


Related: 7 Creative Ways to Embrace Biodegradable alternatives to Plastic that Make a Difference


3. Introducing the Plastic-Free Blister Packs and their Benefits

What are plastic-free blister packs, and how do they differ from traditional plastic blister packs? What are their benefits?

Plastic-free blister packs are a response to the environmental challenges posed by traditional plastic blister packs. These innovative packaging solutions aim to provide the same protective and display functions while eliminating or significantly reducing the use of plastic. Key features of this new invention include:

  • Use of sustainable materials: Plastic-free blister packs are typically made from materials like paperboard, fiber, or biodegradable plastics. These materials are more environmentally friendly and can often be recycled or composted.
  • Recyclability: Unlike traditional plastic blister packs, which are often non-recyclable or difficult-to-recycle, plastic-free alternatives are designed with recycling in mind and can be recycled with the paper waste stream. This ensures that they can be repurposed into new materials, reducing waste.
  • Biodegradability / Compostability: Some plastic-free blister packs are made from compostable materials that break down naturally over time, reducing their impact on the environment.


Related: Sustainable Packaging Materials to Use Instead of Shrink Film


4. Examples of Plastic-Free Blister Packaging Solutions on the Market 

The following examples will help you as a consumer or your business to make the switch to plastic-free packaging or at least reduce your plastic footprint.


Blister Pack Collective

Kudos to the Blister Pack Collective from PA Consulting and PulPac who managed to create the world’s first planet-friendly, Dry Molded Fiber (DMF) tablet blister pack with Bayer as the first pharma brand to join.

Dry Molded Fiber (DMF) is a technology invented by the Swedish company PulPac and it is the first industrial method that converts renewable plant fibers into sustainable packaging and products, making it a viable alternative to single use plastics in terms of speed, scalability, and cost.  According to the company this technology has a 80% lower CO2 footprint than plastic.

That’s fantastic to see that these blister packs are now being designed with circularity in mind and that the low (or no) barrier option is 100% plastic free with basic hydrophobicity from food-grade sizing agents and can be recycled in the paper waste stream. Products that need a higher barrier and strictly regulated packaging contact specification will utilize a very thin layer of plastic to ensure tablet/pack contact with known materials only. However, they would still reduce plastic by 80%.

The Blister Pack Collective is an initiative that brings together pharma, consumer health, and FMCG businesses to accelerate progress towards a world of more sustainable tablet packs, free from problem plastics like PVC.

The manufacturer confirmed that the being used for this current early stage of blister development is Nordic spruce. It is virgin to limit variability during development at this point, but it’s coming from a renewable source, and long-term the process should be compatible with recycled fiber, etc.
All of the raw materials used in the production of the dry molded fiber are PFAS-free.


Plastic Free Blister Packaging

Photo credit: Bayer / PA Consulting / PulPac


PaperBlister™ by Sonoco

The EnviroSense® PaperBlister™ Packaging is an All-Paper solution made entirely from renewable resources. Free of plastics and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the new paper blister package is recyclable in the paper stream and available with SFI™ Forest Management Certification when requested. This solution offers increased shipping efficiency, more room for promotional messaging, better seal quality, improved nesting and stacking capabilities.


Cabinet Health Refillable Medicine Bottles

Cabinet Health is a US sustainable pharma brand founded in 2019 that is revolutionizing the traditional over-the-counter market of disposable plastic bottles and blisters by offering several pills, including allergy relief pills, mucus relief pills, nasal decongestants, antacids, sleep aids, painkillers, and more in sleek reusable and refillable glass jars to store the pills in. These are child-safe, break-proof, stackable glass medicine bottles sold with a magnetic label (made from recyclable materials) for the bottle so you can identify the pills of your choice, and later swap out the label. The idea is to purchase the medication refills in compostable pouches and keep reusing the initial set of “forever” containers.

In October 2023 they announced the launch of Cabinet Rx, the world’s first plastic-free and refillable prescription service. It is a basically refillable mail-order prescription service. This Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) service will start with over 150 commonly prescribed medicines, like Zoloft, Metformin, and Lexapro etc. mailed right to a customer’s front door in a home compostable mailer with a personalized and refillable glass bottle. Currently Cabinet products and services are available in all U.S. States except Oregon. As the first company in the global markets to offer refillable prescriptions in glass jars, we are sure this new service will be a success and we think this is the most sustainable solution in the wrong run, as every year 194 billion single-use plastic SUP medicine bottles are produced globally by pharma.


Cabinet Health Banner


5. Conclusion: Innovative and Sustainable Healthcare Packaging Solutions are on the Rise.

As the plastic-free packaging industry is booming, we’ll see more and more sustainable solutions that are innovative and biobased, i.e. designed with biomaterials. We imagine a world where blister packs don’t have to be sent to collection centers for recycling or end up in landfills. Another way of creating zero-waste packaging solutions for medical waste is to use circular solutions, like reusable and refillable containers like those highlighted above by Cabinet Health that allow patients to purchase plastic-free medications and we hope to see similar initiatives also in other countries around the world. This is the future of the circular economy, an economy where people and the planet live in harmony as there is no disposal of waste in nature.




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