The pharmaceutical industry is responsible for 52 megatons of CO2 eq. per year (Belkhir & Elmeligy, 2019). The autoinjector, a device that aids in the self-administration of medication, is a product that belongs to this specific sector and emits 164 gr CO2 eq. per device originating from the use of raw materials in its production. In order to decrease the carbon footprint of this device a more circular approach is needed. One specific circular strategy is discussed namely, recycling. According to Plastic Recyclers Europe (2019), recycling plastic parts reduces the environmental footprint. Recycling knows two different methods namely, mechanical and chemical recycling.
Mechanical recycling of a single material stream is an established form of recycling, that has the best ability to reduce emissions, and has the preference of experts
In contrast, chemical recycling of which the most desirable sub-process called depolymerisation, only has the ability to recycle three plastics that reside within the product. Therefore, chemical recycling cannot be used as the sole process to recycle the materials of the autoinjector.
From four scenarios that were presented to Alliance to Zero was confirmed that mechanical recycling of single material streams had the preference. In addition, the single material streams should be obtained through the disassembly of the product and the early separation of its components.
These conclusions were used to construct a value chain that further explained which routes materials had to follow in order to get them to a recycler. Developing the value chain requires resources such as machinery and a physical space. However, due to the expected growth in production and therefore collection numbers of the autoinjector, some machines were suggested to switch towards a more industrialised process later on in the strategy.
In addition, the amount of value captured through this process was optimized by looking at the recyclability of the materials. During this exploration, the polymers PA and POM were defined as plastics that are difficult to recycle. As a result, based on polymer specific properties, it was suggested that the PA component (5) could also be made with the polymer PBT, and the components made from POM (4, 7, 9, 10) with PC.
Additionally, the plastic supplier and recycler Sabic was highlighted as an important partner in both returning plastic components to be entered into mechanical recycling, and helping increase the use of mechanically recycled plastic in the production of new devices. As a result, a partially closed loop was obtained.
To aid in the realization of the value chain, a strategic and material specific roadmap and a sustainable business model that communicate the strategic and entrepreneurial decisions were provided.
Realizing the value chain resulted in 76,9 to 100 % of the autoinjectors materials being recycled and 39,03 to 51,17 % of its materials being circular.
Consequently, value was created through a decrease in emissions of 32,21 to 46,17 g CO2 during the production of each autoinjector and the reuse of its valuable materials.