Considering Reusable Packaging for Transport

Novation is asking manufacturers and distributors supplying items to hospitals to work together to implement reusable transport packaging.

Novation is working to replace “limited-life” transport packaging materials such as corrugated boxes, wood pallets, and plastic film with durable, reusable alternatives. Serving the members of VHA Inc., UHC, Children’s Hospital Association, and Provista LLC, the supply chain contracting company is working with Practice Greenhealth and the “Use Reusables” campaign, a joint project of public agency StopWaste.Org and the Reusable Packaging Association, with financial support from U.S. EPA’s Climate Showcase Community program.

Novation has outlined the following goals in a statement:

• Help hospitals implement and sustain reusable transport packaging alternatives in both distributed and direct-from-supplier supplies, where feasible.
• Help hospitals identify and overcome common roadblocks with suppliers in their effort to introduce reusables.
• Develop a toolkit for use by all hospitals interested in implementing reusable transport packaging with their distributors and suppliers.
• Bring awareness to the benefits and applicability of reusable transport packaging opportunities.

Novation has begun pilot programs with several member hospitals. “Early results from several pilot programs include an increase in distributors’ use of reusable totes,” Jennifer Waddell, RN, senior clinical manager at Novation, tells PMP News: “Many hospitals are working with their distributors to implement reusable totes for ‘less than case quantity’ deliveries—this describes instances in which the order is for a smaller amount than case quantity and the distributor has to break down a case of supplies in order to supply the hospital with the needed amount. Traditionally, the distributor would repack the desired amount in a new cardboard box, but we are now seeing the use of totes increasing. This is the lowest of hanging fruit in reusable packaging opportunities and a big win-win for all concerned.”

Pelican Products says that its Pelican BioPharma solution could be used to address the goals outlined by Novation. “The reusable and virtually indestructible nature of our cases are aligned with the eco-friendly goals Novation is aiming to achieve,” explains Sharon Ward. ”In addition to being better for the environment, our reusable solution is more cost-effective in the long-run. In a time where hospitals must squeeze efficiency and cost wherever possible, decision makers are increasingly going to focus on the long-term cost of ownership of their bio-pharma transportation choices.”

Ward believes that cost efficiency and environmental benefits are significant. However, “they pale in comparison to the possibility that a potentially life-saving vaccine could be destroyed because it fell out of its designated temperature range unbeknownst to nurses and hospitals. Addressing that as a risk was at the forefront of the design process of Pelican’s BioPharma cases.”

Waddell adds that “reusable pallets are another popular and easy switch. While we don’t have any examples handy, we’ve heard that some hospitals are also seeing successes here.”

PMP News asked what Novation is urging manufacturers of medical devices and pharmaceuticals to do with their own transportation packaging.

“We are urging manufacturers to investigate, invest in, and implement reusable packaging for their products,” Waddell tells PMP News. “This is not an easy task and requires cooperation and coordination of many layers in the chain of custody, but it is not an impossible dream.”

Such collaboration among many supply chain stakeholders is needed.

“Distributors will rightly argue that there is no environmental benefit if they are simply taking the manufacturers’ cardboard packaged products and repackaging them into reusable totes—in fact, it is only adding labor and complications to the process,” adds Waddell. “This is why it is important to push the point up to the manufacturer level and involve the distributor in the process.”

To encourage suppliers, Novation is planning a seminar on reusable packaging at its upcoming Supplier Summit meeting in early 2013.

There are roadblocks, however. “Suppliers can be resistant to changing their current packaging process,” Waddell tells PMP News. “In addition, too often suppliers want to pass the cost of disposable packaging directly onto the customer/hospital. But with the challenging economy, lowered reimbursements, and increased costs related to healthcare reform changes, hospitals cannot easily afford the higher prices.”

In addition, “if only a minority of customers want to go the reusable route, reusable packaging also introduces several logistical challenges because the supplier is forced to maintain two different distribution systems,” Waddell adds.

Novation is developing a “toolkit” for reusable packaging. “Our goal is to develop documents such as templates for hospitals to use when speaking with suppliers about possible reusable alternatives,” says Waddell. “We also plan to provide resource list resource lists for reusable packaging suppliers, listing resources such as”

Novation is also putting together frequently asked questions outlining benefits of reusable packaging for both suppliers and hospital executives and answers to common objections and/or concerns, she adds.

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