Can the Cold Chain Ever Become Truly Sustainable?

Add bookmark

Pharma IQ

Some things we just expect to be refrigerated. We take it for granted that the supermarket will be stock up with milk stored in a temperature controlled environment, sat waiting ready to be purchased and taken home to the fridge. Freezer sections too have become part of everyday life over the past few decades. Perhaps the prevalence of chilling equipment is one of the reasons we take cold food for granted. It seems slightly odd then that the public seems less aware of the vital roll played by refrigeration technology in getting life saving medicines to where they are needed. Often in the world of food stuffs, chilling cabinets can be a luxury. Everyone likes a nice glass of cola but other than affecting the taste, it has little impact on the quality of the product. However, the fridges that people see in their doctors' surgeries are just a hint of the secret lifesaving side of the cold chain industry. Indeed, it is likely that most people would look at the humble refrigeration unit in a whole new light, if they were aware of the difficulty of getting medical products from the point of manufacture to the syringe they dread so much.

Like the majority of industries around the world, the cold chain sector is facing a major challenge as organisations and consumers look to reduce their environmental impact. So, can a resource and energy intensive area like cold chain ever become truly sustainable? Abrie de Swardt, marketing director of Imperial Logistics, believes the answer is yes.

Speaking to Engineering News, he explained that there are some relativity easy ways to reduce carbon emissions, and some very good reasons for doing so. Indeed, he sees the issue as vital to the wider green project in business as a whole.

"Unless the inefficiencies are dealt with over time in the supply chain, the logistics solutions available to businesses will not be sustainable," Mr de Swardt said.

"Until now, the company has been relatively quiet in the area of sustainability, and more specifically, green logistics, but it feels that it is time to take a stand and be seen as a leader in this area of the logistics industry," he added.

Indeed, the urge to go green is indicated by Reflect Scientifics' recent deal with Universal Container Inc. Reflect, which specialises in cold chain management, has teamed up has teamed up with Universal to help promote the latter's green truck cooling system. If the move proves to be successful, it could see massive changes for the 350,000 such vehicles that operate in the US alone, while cutting carbon emissions dramatically.

Kim Boyce, chief executive officer of Reflect, explained what Universal's product should mean for the market. He said: "The Company's CB-40 Reefer system is an excellent example of the deployment of an alternate energy application that provides clean technology in a cost effective, environmentally sound manner.

However, in many countries around the world the idea of an environmentally-friendly cold chain is just not viable. This does not represent a lack of commitment to green issues, but more the challenge of establishing even a basic cold chain in the first place. Temperatures have to be controlled and monitored from the point of manufacture, to the point of delivery and beyond. Just one lapse in the chain can prove costly, and not just in monetary terms. The swine flu pandemic brought pharmaceutical logistics into the realm of mainstream news. The general public became aware of the importance of transporting vacancies, and other medical treatments in the proper fashion.

Speaking to the Daily Gleaner, Danielle Phillips, a spokeswoman for New Brunswick's pandemic planning effort, explained the level of work that had to be put in to ensure the H1N1 vaccine reached people.

She said: "New Brunswick has set up an intensive temperature-monitoring program to accompany vaccine doses and ensure the cold chain is maintained. No doses have been lost to cold chain breaches."

The fact that in New Brunswick alone 150,000 people have been immunised against swine flu, gives an indication of the monumental effort faced by those responsible for organising cold chain distribution. Of course, this is just one province fighting one disease and the global scale of the cold chain struggle dwarfs this many times over. This battle can often be dogged by other wider ranging problems, such as poor transport infrastructure or political turmoil.