The debate about replacing PET packaging with glass as packaging material for pharmaceuticals is reaching yet another milestone as the matter is due to come up for its next hearing before the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The issue has been hanging fire since 2013, when NGO Him Jagriti petitioned for a ban on PET for medicines. Various arms of the government seem to be contradicting each other. For instance, the 65th Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) report of 2013 recommended that PET/ plastics should not be used to pack medicines and should be replaced by glass.
Frustrated by what allegedly were delaying the tactics of industry associations, Him Jagriti then approached the NGT for a blanket ban on the use of PET and plastics for packaging of medicines. The NGO could finally have its way, as the NGT has been waging a war against plastic and is reported to favour ‘restriction’ on plastic packaging of products including PET bottles. The NGT invited PET manufacturers and the pharma industry to send their views.
The NGT asked the Health Ministry to form a committee to study the issue. A committee headed by MK Bhan, Former Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, was constituted, to look into the science behind the issue. The committee advised the need for better regulation and standards but found that “there is no conclusive, reproducible evidence to suggest that the use of PET, or additives used with it such as antimony, for pharma packaging may leach substances beyond limits that pose a threat to human health.”
In contradiction to this stance, the 71st DTAB report reiterated its previous recommendation, advising that the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare should ban the use of plastics and PET for packaging medicines for babies, the elderly and nursing mothers.
With the pharma sector accounting for a sizable 16 per cent of the Rs 4,000-crore PET packaging industry in India, the powerful PET lobby will most likely seek to further delay any final decision contrary to its interests.
But there is a middle path. The PET packaging industry should agree to abide by higher benchmarks and regulation, at least of the materials supplied to the pharma sector. In doing so, it will raise its own standards, as well as help its client sector, the pharma companies, to abide by global norms.
But the push to change to better, if more expensive plastics/ PET, should come from the pharma sector, which is currently resisting the move. In doing so, it will redeem itself in the eyes of the consumer/ patient. Early movers to safer packaging materials can even position this as a USP in a crowded competitive market. Savvy pharma companies are already moving in this direction. For instance, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories recently launched an initiative called Purple Health, wherein certain brands were repackaged deploying consumer friendly packaging devices. (See story, pages 52-55). It is only a matter of time before this trend becomes the norm. Hopefully, the companies opposing the ban on PET packaging will follow the same trend.