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Jan 142009

By John DeFore

Caught by a sudden allergy fit while traveling for the holidays, I found myself in an unfamiliar drugstore where my preferred medication wasn’t available. Looking at the options, one jumped out at me — not for its histamine-blocking potency, but because of its amazing overuse of packaging materials.

A 10-milligram tablet of Zyrtec measures approximately one by one-half centimeters, pretty small even for a pill. Yet the package of 14 I found was a plastic shell measuring about 12 cm high, 12 cm wide, and 4 cm deep; within that case were 14 individual blister-pack cards, each about 4 cm wide and 5.5 cm tall — around 40 times the surface area of the pill itself.

What could be the justification for such a wasteful oversized package? I got in touch with Marc Boston, spokesperson for Zyrtec’s manufacturer McNeil Consumer Healthcare. (The company appears to have no web site of its own beyond this umbrella site touting the many “brands 2 live by” it controls.)

Boston replied that the “blister packaging was developed to maintain product integrity,” a consideration that evidently doesn’t apply to the slightly more sensible bottle container seen here online. (I say “slightly” because the bottle itself, which appears to hold over twice the pills in half the space, is still encased in a larger cardboard-and-plastic shell.)

More comprehensible was the other part of the explanation: that the single-pill blister packs were “also designed to provide the convenience of a portable dosage,” allowing users to slip a single dose into a pocket or purse in case they need it while away from home. Still, the card is much bigger than that use demands, and it would be easy to fit more into less space.

To the company’s credit, Boston points out that “the Zyrtec 10 mg blister packaging includes the following sustainable materials: 100% recycled and recyclable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, and SFI (Sustainable Forest Initiative) certified backcards that are recyclable.” Fortunately, that recycled outer shell is stamped with the #1 SPI code, making it acceptable in many municipal recycling programs.

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