Part 1: Leading Causes of Packaging Waste in Cannabis

By Connor Anderson

This blog is the first of a two part series and serves as an introduction to waste in cannabis packaging.

Picture this. It’s been a month since you moved to a Cannabis legal state. You’re still hit with the rush of having done something illegal as you walk in for your weekly dispensary visit and pass your ID through the window.

Next thing you know, you’re “good to go,” and that magic door clicks unlocked. A pleasantly overwhelming array of products beckons you in.

Despite knowing you’re looking for dabs– Indica Budder, to be exact–, your eyes can’t help but gloss over every product in sight, at least once. After a few minutes of drooling, your wonderment is disrupted by, “so… what’re we lookin’ for today?”

Others are waiting their turn to shop behind you. Anxiety sets in. The words ‘Indica’ and ‘Budder’ drop out your mouth as you fall back on your original purpose. No sooner has the budtender reached behind the glass to grab a suggestion and you’ve accepted his recommendation.

Cannabis sustainability is so far out of mind, it’s not even an afterthought. You’re focused on getting home for a taste-test and whether you forgot to refill the torch. Sure, you compare packaging between items at the supermarket, but it seems unnecessary at the canna-market. Every product seems just as ‘natural’ as the next.

This is an all too common association. The public equates all things marijuanna with ‘mother earth,’ representing an underlying contributor to unsustainable practices in the industry. The fact that weed is a plant and the fact that the color green defines the industry– a color which also happens to be the internationally identifying color of sustainability– are partly responsible. Brands continue to sell unsustainable packaging because consumers keep buying it.

The ‘you’ above depicts a clueless version of myself, a few weeks after moving to Denver. It illustrates the commonly thoughtless purchasing journey caused by a deficit in consumer education.

As I entered the industry and learned more about sustainable packaging, I made a change to my purchase decision making. Rather than showing up and going with whatever I’m handed, I assess inventory online, research brands, and head to the dispensary– sustainable shopping list in-hand. Doing so ensures I purchase environmentally-clean products that are as safe as possible and that the strains will provide the greatest relief to my unique needs.

To any dispensary-goer who strolls through the magic door in a similar fashion, I encourage you to try my method and see what you think. It’s time we took control of our purchase power.

Legislative Barriers

Though an encouraging number of companies are working toward green-packaging on one level or another, the issue is not that simple. Stringent cannabis advertising legislation makes it difficult to communicate and capitalize on green marijuana packaging solutions, and child-proofing laws exacerbate the issue, posing serious design challenges. Even with green packaging solutions, most cannabis packaging still ends up in the landfill– or worse, littered on the street outside the dispo.

A lack of federal legality also means a lack of regulations and enforcement. As a result, greenwashing runs rampant throughout the industry and it is difficult to discern which brands are actually green.

In order to hit the shelves, cannabis packaging must be cleared as child-safe. Packaging is sent to a third party for testing on children and senior citizens. Colorado law requires that 85% of 100 children aged 3-to-5 and 85% of 100 seniors are unable to open it. Yet, adults verging on senior citizenship (>65) should be able to access their goods, which is a major paradox– especially considering the rising number of older users.

Using more material for packaging is often the go-to solution. But, weed has been legal for a while now, and these packaging laws aren’t fresh either– though they differ across state lines and have evolved over the years. It’s easy for companies to simply use legislation as an excuse, relying on the decades-long association of weed with naturality to hide from media coverage.

sustainability in cannabis packaging

Consumer Perceptions: Is Marijuana ‘Natural’?

Well, no… but also yes. Marijuana is inherently natural in the sense that it’s a plant. Yet, as it is now often bred under artificial lights and sold in manmade packaging, it’s more like a piece of earth wrapped in layers of landfill ingredients. It turns out that a low cost, generic container for just one gram of wax is often wrapped in 30 grams of packaging.

The organically-minded, “save-the-planet” imagery originating during the hippie movement remains tied to the stoner stereotype of today. The correlation still applies to the marijuanna world as a whole, but to a declining degree with more and more consumers realizing that the world of marijuanna has gone corporate. The industry’s leaders are no long-haired tanned dudes in flip-flops, hair-flowing as they frolic in the forest.

In order to bring about industry-wide sustainability, we need to change consumer perception. People need to separate the meaning of marijuana from the business that sells it. We need consumers to look at products and start thinking, “Well, this is cool… but do my dabs need to be wrapped in three layers of packaging?” They need to stop using brand-name, potency, strain, price, etc. to base their decisions.

Everyone knows marijuanna is now a business. What they’ve yet to comprehend is what that means: just like any other industry, the cannabis industry is plagued by a lack of sustainable practices.

Stop relying on what the ‘expert’ behind the counter says. Start your research before you get to the dispensary. Or, if you smoke dabs (both THC or CBD), take the easy route and choose WaxNax; we’re paving the way for sustainable concentrate packaging. Above all, take your time when making decisions to reclaim your purchase power.

This blog is the first part of a two part series on sustainable packaging and functions as an introduction to the barriers of sustainable cannabis packaging– namely, consumer perception, purchase behavior, and legal issues.

Part two will go into more depth on sustainability issues in concentrate packaging, detailing packaging material recyclability, current solutions, improvements in the making, and routes to a zero-carbon footprint. We also provide helpful links for free cannabis sustainability consultation for businesses, as well as best practices for recycling consumer packaging in the state of Colorado.

Stay tuned! Part Two will be out next week.

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