The trickle of all-recyclable, bio-based packaging for pharmaceutical cold-chain shipments is starting to turn into a steady flow. The latest to join is Softbox, which introduced its TempCell ECO in January in Europe, and now in the US. Rather than plastic-based insulation (typically, EPS, expanded polystyrene), TempCell ECO uses layers of corrugated paper. Packets of phase-change material (PCM) are still made with plastic film, but the combination of that plastic, plus a water-based PCM, makes the coolant recyclable, too.
Other recent entrants in the “curbside recyclable” faceoff include Packaging Technology Group (PTG), which announced its TRUEtemp natural-cellulose containers in late 2019; and Temperpack, launching the ClimaCell container earlier. There are other efforts inside and outside the US.
Softbox’s insulation, branded as ThermaFlute, is patent-pending, while Temperpack already owns a patent on the ClimaCell technology. Softbox says that its container has been tested “against ISTA 7D summer and winter profiles,” and that it provides “qualified temperature control for wide-stability pharmaceutical products for up to 72 hours.” (Softbox was asked point-blank whether the container can maintain 2-8°C control; this was their answer.)
For its part, PTG now offers two types of recyclable containers, one based on cellulose and one based on cotton (we know, cotton is cellulose too!). In April, the company announced an unusual twist on cold chain packaging: a “dual temperature” design, such that one container can hold both frozen and refrigerated product. “The dual temp shipper is especially useful for complex immunotherapies shown to be effective in combating certain cancers and other diseases,” says the company.
Up, down or stay the same
The trend toward sustainable packaging materials is a real one, made all the more important by the constraints of living in a pandemic and its restrictions on store pickups and travel. In life sciences logistics, a comparable trend is toward the use of high-performance, reusable containers, along with the reverse-logistics capabilities of the packaging providers. (Temperpack slams this trend, saying that “While the benefits are great for these types of shipping containers, their practicality in real-life situations is bad. Many of these containers are built stronger than necessary and never see the lifespan they were originally intended for.”)
It is also worth noting that the needs of life sciences for temperature-controlled packaging are diversifying. Express delivery companies are much better at delivering a parcel within 24 hours—making the need for extended duration containers (96 or more hours at temperature) less critical; at the same time, requirements for shipping pallets internationally have evolved on a different path than domestic parcel delivery. (There are exceptions to this all over the place.) Yet another factor is the ongoing trend of monitoring and controlling the condition of ambient-temperature products, which traditionally have not required cooling. Meanwhile, as detailed in Pharmaceutical Commerce’s 2020 Biopharma Cold Chain Sourcebook, the rapidly expanding realm of cellular and genetic therapies (CGTs), with their frequent requirements for cryogenic shipping, represent yet another diversification.
For the time being, the industry’s options seem to be to delve into the new world of recyclable materials, take on the complexity of deploying reusable containers, or stick with the reliability and simplicity of EPS.