Tikkun Olam Makers Prescription Paper Pill Bottles

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Laura Topf
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About 90% of prescription pill bottles are not recycled, leaving the majority to leak toxins into landfills. Enter the Prescription Paper Pill Bottle, developed by the nonprofit Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM): completely biodegradable, FDA compliant, and accessible to those with arthritis and vision issues.
This is the best solution on the market to the waste created at pharmacies, but I still have some issues with the bottle. It’s open source, allowing it to be accessible to all, but the idea of producing pill bottles is not attractive to pharmacies, especially if they are a smaller business. I also want TOM to be more transparent and forward with their values, so that consumers can see the way that TOM runs and where they want to be.

What it's made of:


This pill bottle is made out of hemp paper, instead of the classic polypropylene plastic, which is not recyclable. Hemp paper is completely compostable and biodegradable. The bottle also does not use any plastic, artificial glue, or toxic dye/coatings, instead opting for wood glue and beeswax as a sealant. The wood glue (classic school glue/PVA glue) is biodegradable. The beeswax sealant conforms to FDA regulations of water resistance. Hemp paper is a more sustainable choice over classic paper, due to the fact that there is no chemical bleaching in its creation process that could lead to harmful runoff.

Even though the materials are not see-through, so as to avoid medication mix-ups, the labels on the pill bottles are large, easy to read, and made out of the same compostable hemp paper. The child-lock system involves pushing the sides in, and lifting the top off. It does not require much strength, and seems to be accessible to those who have arthritis. This product design and these material choices is very thought-through, as they are using completely sustainable materials while maintaining accessibility and following health regulations set by the FDA.

How it's made:


The Tikkun Olam Makers released the pill bottle as a free, open source downloadable on how to create the pill bottle oneself. This means that pharmacies would have to each produce the pill bottle themselves, and hire employees to fold the paper by hand. The bottle was released in september 2020, and I can not find any information on pharmacies solely using these bottles. That can suggest that the production of the bottles is too expensive, or that there needs to be solutions found for its inconvenient production process. This would encourage more pharmacies to replace their plastic bottles in favor for these compostable ones.

Since the individual pharmacies have the burden of sourcing materials, each specific pharmacy could have different manufacturers. However, the production of hemp paper is pretty standardized across the industry. First a slurry is made of the hemp and water, and it is pressed into a paper shape just like classic paper. There are significantly less chemicals added during hemp paper process due to the fact that hemp has twice the amount of cellulose than trees do. Also, hemp does not use as much water during its paper process.

Beeswax sealant is made by melting down beeswax, and filtering out any impurities through a tightly woven fabric. Chemicals can be added as well to obtain a specific color. The sealant that is suggested by TOM does not have any additives, fortunately, so that the sealant can completely biodegrade after use.
Because there are only three materials required, and the pharmacies are required to build the bottles themselves, the travel in the supply chain results in a relatively low carbon output. In the end, though, because the production chain puts too much burden on the pharmacies, it discourages and disincentivizes them from using this bottle over the classic plastic bottle, despite its environmental advantages. This product is still in prototype stage, so I am eager to see how they streamline production.

Who makes it:


Since the TOM does not actually manufacture the products, I can’t fully evaluate the working conditions of the production process. However, the organization itself is comprised of volunteers who donate their time to address often ignored problems that mainly affect the disabled and elderly. Their solutions are always open source, so that everyone can access them, but TOM does not produce most of their solutions, except for ones regarding COVID. The nonprofit is based in Israel, but has global programs, including many chapters at American colleges.

TOM is a venture of the thinktank Reut Group. Doing research into this organization, I found that they had many articles about conflicts in the Middle East. With the context that Reut has lobbied in the past, and reading the articles, I think their motives in their activism raise questions. However, there is no transparency about actions the Reut group has made, so it’s hard to tell if it is important or not. I have many articles linked down below for others to form their own opinions.

In the end, this product was invented by volunteers and participants of TOM, and there is a large disconnect between the developers and the backer of the startup, as there are no values on their website that could divide people in any way. I don’t think the values of the Reut group are also the values of the volunteers who built this product, so I don’t see this as incredibly contentious.