• Sustainability
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Single-Use Technology vs. Stainless Steel for Biopharma: What's More Sustainable?

In the realm of fluid processing for biopharmaceutical, the choice between plastics based single-use technology (SUT) and reusable stainless-steel applications has long been the subject of much debate. While single-use equipment offers numerous advantages such as lower cross-contamination risk, reduced cleaning efforts, enhanced process flexibility, shorter batch turnaround times, and decreased capital investments, the question of sustainability looms larger than ever.

By Daniel Prause,

The central question behind this debate: what kind of equipment for fluid management and final filling applications is more sustainable? Does polymeric single-use technology or stainless steel produce a lower carbon footprint?

The research landscape indicates - contrary to popular belief - that disposable polymeric fluid processing equipment for pharma and biopharma might actually be more sustainable than reusable steel solutions for many applications.

Environmental footprint reduction – a crucial factor for competitiveness in the (Bio-)Pharmaceutical Industry

In today's economy, sustainability is not merely a sideshow - but a crucial factor for businesses striving for long-term competitiveness. This will be even more true in the near future, as moving towards environmental sustainability is becoming a necessity for sound business.

Many global markets are increasingly defined by legislation that incentivizes or even mandates reductions in businesses’ CO2 footprints. Even in regions where legislation is lacking, ESG ratings will have soon a meaningful and measurable impact on businesses worldwide. Thus, a decisive move towards footprint reduction is becoming paramount for any company’s success.

ESG and its impact on the (Bio-)Pharmaceutical Industry

ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. It represents a set of criteria used by investors, stakeholders, and companies themselves to evaluate a company's operations and its impact on society and the environment. Here, we want to focus on the “E” – the environmental aspect. The criterion includes a company's impact on nature, such as its carbon footprint, resource use, pollution, and efforts towards sustainability.


ESG is important for businesses in the field of (bio)pharma for several reasons:

  • Enhanced Reputation: Strong ESG practices can improve a company's reputation among customers, employees, investors, and the public. It can attract socially responsible investors and consumers.
  • Access to Capital: Many investors, including institutional investors and funds, are increasingly considering ESG factors in their investment decisions. Companies with strong ESG performance may find it easier to access capital and attract investment.
  • Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Adhering to ESG principles can help companies stay compliant with evolving environmental and social regulations, avoiding potential legal issues and fines.

What does fluid processing tubing have to do with environmental sustainability and carbon footprint reduction?

For the globally operating pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry, the importance of evaluating the carbon footprint of their single-use fluid processing technology is an important step on the way towards real sustainability – and ensuring future competitiveness. Understanding and minimizing the environmental impact of the entire value chain is no longer just an ethical - yet optional – endeavor to protect the earth and its resources for future generations.

Rather, footprint optimization has become a necessity for securing a forward-thinking position in the industry as well as an imperative for remaining economically competitive. That is why, for fluid processing specialists in biopharma, the choice between single-use polymeric solutions and stainless-steel is currently taking center stage. Choosing the right materials holds the potential to significantly influence a company’s environmental footprint.

The Environmental Perspective: Single-Use vs. Stainless Steel

As environmental concerns continue to gain traction in biopharmaceutical production, the sustainability of single-use tubing has come under scrutiny. There is a prevalent perception of associating "disposables" or "plastics" with an environmental burden. Thus, it is imperative for proponents of SUT to demonstrate its potential as an eco-friendly alternative to stainless-steel based biopharmaceutical production. As a matter of fact, and contrary to popular belief, current evidence points towards SUT being an eco-friendlier alternative to steel – at least when it comes to fluid processing technology in the (bio)pharmaceutical industry.

Single-Use Tubing vs. Stainless Steel Tubing:
Energy Consumption and Carbon Emissions

A study conducted by Rawlings and Pora undertook comprehensive energy consumption calculations, incorporating data on cleaning, sterilization, and material usage. The findings suggest that SUT-based operations could potentially result in lower energy consumption compared to conventional stainless-steel applications, highlighting a significant potential for reducing carbon emissions in biopharmaceutical production.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Studies about Single-Use Tubing

Several Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies have been conducted to evaluate the environmental impact of SUT. These studies consistently show that the implementation of SUT can contribute to a more sustainable manufacturing environment in numerous cases. By reducing the need for extremely extensive cleaning and sterilization processes, SUT minimizes resource consumption and associated environmental impacts.

Further, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) published in BioPharm International, comparing the environmental impacts of producing monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) using either single-use or stainless steel process trains, found that single-use processing had lower impacts on ecosystems, human health, and resources.

Beyond sustainability: Advantages of Single-Use Tubing

Over the last twenty years, single-use systems (SUS) have gained traction within the biopharmaceutical industry. Their appeal stems from their closed system design, which eliminates the need for permanent infrastructure. This feature not only enhances processing flexibility but also reduces the overall facility footprint.

As biopharmaceutical companies expand their clinical pipelines, the demand for producing drugs with yearly requirements of around 500 kg or less increases. This necessitates a highly adaptable manufacturing setup, capable of swiftly transitioning between campaigns, adjusting throughput, and modifying campaign lengths. Single-use systems are particularly well-suited for this requirement as they allow rapid and efficient changes in scale without compromising plant capacity utilization.

Thus, the growing demand for single-use products is propelled by the requirement to manufacture various products in precise quantities and at an accelerated pace. Utilizing single-use systems enables facilities to streamline processes, eliminating certain steps and thereby boosting the production speed of drugs within these systems.

This makes single-use systems true enablers for the production of smaller drug product batches, catering to the requirements of personalized medicine and emerging modalities like mRNA vaccines, cell, and gene therapies.

Further, compared to stainless steel, single-use systems facilitate process portability between different plants with minimal or no adaptation necessary, offering added flexibility and efficiency in production.


The Path Forward for Sustainability and Single-Use Tubing

In the ongoing quest for sustainable practices in biopharmaceutical production, the choice between single-use plastics tubing and steel tubing plays a pivotal role. The evidence from energy consumption studies and LCA assessments strongly supports the notion that SUT can be a more environmentally friendly alternative in many cases. By embracing single-use technologies, the industry can move towards a future marked by reduced environmental impact without compromising the integrity and safety of biopharmaceutical processes.

Incorporating Single-Use Tubing by RAUMEDIC into Biopharma Processes

As a leading manufacturer of single-use polymeric equipment like tubing and tube sets, RAUMEDIC understands the critical importance of sustainability in fluid processing. Our range of single-use tubing solutions is designed to not only meet the highest industry standards but also contribute to a greener, more sustainable future. By incorporating biopolymers into tubing, RAUMEDIC offers customers the chance to co-create sustainable value by reducing their footprint in the upstream value chain.

Contact us today to learn more about how our polymeric single-use products can enhance the sustainability of biopharmaceutical operations.

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