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Thin Paper: A Solution for Sustainability Challenges within the Pharmaceutical Industry

In the present age, there is extensive pressure on the ecosystems and biodiversity of the world, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues, which spurs demand for sustainably produced products and services. Therefore, sustainability is an essential part of manufacturing and business strategies across all industries. Despite the extensive regulatory framework, even the pharmaceutical industry has to accommodate this demand. Thin paper is a promising option for printed package leaflets. Its unique qualities combined with specific printing techniques allow reducing the ecological footprint of package leaflets while maintaining excellent print quality and manageability.

Sustainability in the Paper Industry

Only recently have many leading companies begun to work on real indicators of reduction of their impact on the environment. Examples of indicators of sustainable production specifically related to the environment include the percent of raw material from renewable resources, acidification potential measured in SO2 equivalent, kilograms of emissions to the air, and amount of energy used per unit of product or service produced. However, indicators of sustainable production should include not only production measures but also measures of the relationship between production and the economic, social, and environmental systems within which it exists.1

Sustainability has become an essential part of the current manufacturing and business strategies in the paper industry. Sustainability is based on three interdependent pillars: environmental, economic and social.2

To be sustainable, the paper industry must fulfill the following conditions:2

• reduce the use of materials and energy in products and their production process,

• close material loop systems, to conserve resources and prevent waste,

• minimize or avoid waste, Sustainable Solutions

• reuse and recycle products,

• dispose of non-recyclable products or production waste in an environmentally acceptable way,

• design products that are easy to repair, adaptable, durable and with longer lifetimes,

• minimize transportation needs,

• utilize clean production technologies and procedures throughout the product life cycle and improve process technology,

• research and develop environmentally sound technologies.

Environmental considerations must be integrated into the corporate culture and business planning at all levels of design, manufacturing, distribution, and disposal. Achieving sustainable development will require changes in the industrial processes, in the type and quantity of resources used, in the treatment of waste, in the control of emissions, and in the products produced.3

There are multiple environmental certification systems within the wood processing industries. Within the printing industry, the prevailing environmental certificate is the FSC certificate issued by the Forest Stewardship Council for products made with sustainably grown wood. The FSC is an international non-governmental organization that promotes the sustainable use of the world’s forest resources. The FSC certificate criteria were originally created regarding tropical forestry, but currently, it is the most comprehensive forest certification system in the world. Each link in the certification chain must be certified. For example, the certification chain for printable goods comprises the forest owner, the forestry company, the paper mill, the printing house, and finally, the company using the printed products.4

Thin Paper and its Market

Wood-free thin paper is based on a chemical pulp in which lignin, the natural binding agent in wood, as well as hemicelluloses, the branched short carbohydrate polymers, are degraded into small water-soluble molecules and subsequently washed away from the cellulose fibers in a chemical process. Consequently, the pulp retains long and undamaged cellulose fibers, giving strength and durability to the paper. Bleaching lignin away in the chemical pulping process has the added benefit that thin paper does not turn brown with time. Thin paper is frequently used for printing in a variety of industries across the world.5