NovoPen® 5 - Insulin Pen

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Katherine Hanley
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The NovoPen® 5 is the latest insulin pen produced by the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. They produce over 550 million insulin pens every year which are distributed worldwide, and demand is growing as the number of people living with diabetes continues to increase. Novo Nordisk recognize that production on this scale can have an enormous impact on the environment and have taken responsibility for leading sustainable change within the pharmaceutical industry. Their goal to have zero environmental impact is ambitious and they have already made significant progress, also clearly holding themselves accountable for always being able to do more. Novo Nordisk are using a ‘Circular for Zero’ strategy which involves redesigning their products to enable them to become a circular business. They are already trialing insulin pens which can be recycled and reused, taking responsibility for the full life-cycle of their products while never compromising on the safety and efficacy of their pens needed by the millions of people living with diabetes. Meeting these very high standards which are necessary within the pharmaceutical industry is one of the main challenges to improving sustainability, however Novo Nordisk are using their insulin pens to prove to the rest of the industry that it is a challenge that is possible to overcome. 

What it's made of:


Around 77% of the NovoPen® 5 is made from plastic, and this plastic cannot be recycled due to the insulin pen also consisting of glass and metal components which cannot be separated by the machines common to most recycling facilities. However, as part of Novo Nordisk’s mission to have zero environmental impact they have been performing their own research into bio-based plastics which can be used as alternatives to the unsustainable oil and gas based plastics which are currently used. They released an article describing how they were initially focused on using biodegradable plastics in their insulin pens, but when considering the fact that these plastics can only degrade properly when put into an industrial composting facility, which are not available in many places around the world and would require the pen to be entirely made out of this material, they decided that using biodegradable plastics in their pens is not the most suitable solution. Instead they have now turned the focus of their research to using bio-plastics (plastics made from more sustainable plant-based sources) in their pens, while also making them more easily recyclable, they realize that a circular product life-cycle would be the only way for them to reach their zero environmental impact goal.
Novo Nordisk have already made significant progress in solving the problem of recycling their insulin pens. They invented their own recycling machine which can automatically separate the plastic, metal and glass components of their pens. This machine underwent testing using insulin pens that could not be sold and it was very successful, they even went on to collaborate with a Danish design company to use the plastic components of the pens to produce office chairs! The glass from the vials containing the insulin are also reused via a collaboration where they are melted down to make lamps. This really emphasizes Novo Nordisk’s commitment to becoming a circular and sustainable company, their progress is impressive and quite unique within the pharmaceutical industry. 

How it's made:


Novo Nordisk have 16 production facilities across 9 countries and by 2020 all these facilities were being run by electricity from 100% renewable sources, the first pharmaceutical company to achieve this. Novo Nordisk also disclose information about their energy and water consumption, CO2 emissions and waste productions with impressive transparency. Their 2020 report shows that their total CO2 emissions from operations and transportation is 170,000 tonnes, and although this may sound high, Novo Nordisk have already started reducing this amount significantly, this can be seen when you compare the 2020 emissions to the 306,000 tonnes CO2 emitted in 2019, and they have clearly stated that it is their goal to have zero CO2 emissions by 2030. Novo Nordisk are also committed to becoming a zero waste company, already either recycling or reusing 93% of the waste from their production sites, with only 1% of their waste ending up in landfill. But where I think Novo Nordisk really stands out from other pharmaceutical companies is in their commitment to becoming a circular business, they are completely redesigning the life-cycles of their existing products, and incorporating ease of re-use and recycling into the design of all new products too. They are currently piloting a ‘take-back’ programme which would allow for used insulin pens to be easily returned to Novo Nordisk to be recycled. However, Novo Nordisk have also emphasized that putting in place an effective pharmaceutical ‘take-back’ system on a global scale will be a huge challenge, and one that pharmaceutical companies will likely have to unite on and solve as an industry. 

Who makes it:


Novo Nordisk are a global healthcare company based in Denmark and sell their products in 169 countries around the world. They started in 1923 as two small companies producing insulin for people suffering from diabetes, in 1989 they merged to form Novo Nordisk and are now a world leading company “driving change to defeat diabetes” and also perform exciting research into treatments for other chronic diseases, including obesity, hemophilia and growth disorders.
They employ over 45,000 people around the world, and Novo Nordisk have been paying all their employees a minimum of a living wage since 2014. They are clear about the responsibility they take for the health and safety of their employees and for upholding the human rights of all people within their company and supply chain.
Novo Nordisk’s ‘Circular for Zero’ mission is ambitious, and this makes them stand out from other companies who set insufficient goals requiring only the bare minimum of change in order to meet them. Novo Nordisk has already proven their commitment to transforming their company and are leading the way for other pharmaceutical companies to make similar sustainable changes which are desperately needed.