Citation: Grassl P, “Monomaterial Packaging: A Solution to the Global Plastics Crisis”. ONdrugDelivery Magazine, Issue 91 (Oct 2018), pp 87-89.

Peter Grassl discusses the extent of environmental damage caused by plastic waste in the oceans, and explains how cardboard monomaterial packaging is not only a step towards tackling this issue, but also a potential source of extensive cost savings in pharmaceutical logistics and storage.


In February 2108, a young sperm whale washed up on a beach in south-eastern Spain. When scientists carried out a necropsy, they discovered the huge mammal had succumbed to a fatal infection caused by more than 30 kg of plastics in its stomach and intestines. The whale was far from alone; some 90% of dead sea birds are found to have plastic in their gullets. And the problem is only getting worse, an estimated 10 billion kg of plastics enter rivers and oceans every year – a quantity on course to double by 2025 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: An estimated 10 billion kg of plastics enter rivers and oceans every year.

The most obvious manifestation of this environmental crisis is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, an 80,000-tonne island of mostly plastic refuse swirling around between California and Hawaii. These plastics not only kill animals, but also decimate coral reefs and damage human health as they break down into microplastic particles that are now prevalent right across the food chain.

This is why enterprises increasingly aspire to become “plastics free” as part of their sustainability goals. For the pharmaceutical industry, the biggest use of plastics is, of course, in the packaging and logistics chain. Tackling this problem means embracing the use of monomaterials (essentially cardboard) to replace plastics in packaging.


Parenteral packaging specialist Dividella has long espoused the concept of using 100% monomaterials in its packaging solutions – not just for environmental reasons but also to deliver much lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and total cost of package (TCP). In-depth research and numerous case studies have enabled Dividella to calculate the actual savings from using monomaterial packaging with some precision.

In principle, the development of the packaging solution should take place right at the beginning of the decision-making process. The choice of a suitable packaging solution has considerable impact on several TCO points. Special attention must therefore be paid to it, as it may be one of the dominant cost drivers.

To explain this, consider the simple example of packaging three syringes and a pack insert. The choice is between a classic blister pack in a side-loading folding box or a 100% cardboard solution, consisting of a folding box with a glued corrugated flute, which can be produced on a toploader.

Table 1 shows how the material costs differ.

Item Blister Pack NeoTOP 100% Monomaterial
Folding box 10¢
Plastic tray/cardboard flute
Aluminium lidding foil
TOTAL 24¢ 10¢

Table 1: Packaging material costs.

Thus, for an annual quantity of 2.5 million packs, total costs are US $600,000 (£460,000) for the blister pack, compared with $250,000 (£190,000) for the monomaterials toploading pack, resulting in a saving of $350,000 (£270,000) per year.

This is from the chosen packaging solution alone, but there are consequent savings to be achieved in simplicity of manufacture and, not insignificantly, in logistics costs from weight and volume reductions, particularly in cold-chain storage, where both are at a premium (Table 2). By land, it costs some $5000 to shift a 9 m3 refrigerated container over 3000 km. Now consider the number of packs such a container can carry. The NeoTOP monomaterials package (Figure 2) has a volume about half that of the blister pack, partly because it is optimised for volume and also by eliminating the need to seal a blister with lidding foil. These transportation savings are further magnified when moving goods by sea or air.

Item Packs per Container Cost per Pack Cost for 2.5 million Packs
100% monomaterial cardboard 20833 24¢ $6000000
Blister pack 12315 40.6¢ $1015000

The TCP savings extend onwards into energy cost in packaging installation, which can also be determined fairly easily from manufacturers’ information. The high heating demands for film forming and sealing mean that a thermoforming process for blister packs will cost more than a toploader for monomaterial packaging (cardboard) that is only glue sealed. In the example above, energy costs per shift, including compressed air, came to approximately $5000 (£3900) for the toploader, compared with $12000 (£9300) for the blister machine.

Figure 2: Dividella’s 100% monomaterial NeoTOP packaging solution.


Dividella has built up an impressive reputation across the global pharmaceutical industry for the quality and effectiveness of its NeoTOP topload cartoning machines. This success has been established on a holistic approach that recognises that machine and pack design go hand in hand.

The toploading concept also recognises that pack design, construction and appearance form significant added values for manufacturers, meaning that each pack deserves to be treated as a unique entity, supported by optimised handling and a complete packaging design.

Therefore, Dividella’s packaging designers are accustomed to working in close co-operation with the customer’s marketing departments to determine detailed specifications for individual packs and carton loading.

Dividella is thus able to address TCO and TCP concerns at multiple levels:

  • The high-quality engineering of cartoners
  • The flexibility and integration of modular design concepts
  • Innovative package design expertise
  • Extended machine capabilities allowing for wider choice of materials and formats
  • User friendliness in operation