Making Cannabis Packaging Sustainable
By Connor Anderson
This blog is the second of a two-part series. Click here for part 1, an overview of the packaging waste problem.
Scroll down for links to free cannabis sustainability consultation for businesses, as well as best practices for recycling consumer packaging in the state of Colorado.
Today’s blog discusses the current unsustainable cannabis packaging landscape, shares current solutions, investigates hemp-based packaging, and proposes routes to eliminating marijuana packaging waste for good.
Are Dabs Packaged Sustainably?
For the most part, concentrate packaging is not eco-friendly.
Most of today’s concentrates are packaged by the gram in small, dense screw-top containers made of varying materials, including polystyrene, silicone, acrylic, and glass. While some of these materials are recyclable in theory, they are not recycled in practice.
Most recycling facilities refuse small, single-use plastics like these containers because they “fall into the crevices of recycling machinery.” Instead, they are discarded into a separate bin and eventually end up in the landfill.
The same goes for the containers used for flower, pre-rolls, and vapes– including the actual cartridge–, but this blog’s focus is on concentrates.
The mixture of substances frequently used to create concentrate packaging, for example, polystyrene plus a silicone insert plus an external layer, further diminishes the likelihood of recycling as it is difficult and time-consuming to separate the materials.
Yet, the future is hopeful.
A variety of packaging companies have risen to the task of innovating sustainable packaging solutions, like your friends here at Waxnax. These ancillary companies sell semi-custom solutions to producers who use it to package their raw material.
Hemp Plastic: The Future of All Packaging
Hemp packaging promises to be an environmental gamechanger across all industries, not just cannabis. Whereas normal plastics can take 450 years to decompose, Hemp plastic usually does so within only six months.
Imagine what the world would be like if Hemp research started 20-30 years ago. How much pollution could we have prevented?
Between 2000 and 2015, the total amount of plastic in the world doubled from about 3.39 billion to 7.82 billion tonnes. If we began phasing out petroleum-based plastics in 2000, we might have prevented 3 billion tonnes of plastic waste from entering the environment.
Hemp has only recently gained traction as a viable alternative to petroleum-based plastics due to archaic legislation. Since hemp contains a sprinkle of THC, it was equated with marijuanna in the eyes of the law until the 2018 Farm Bill; little-to-no research could be conducted until four years ago.
Our partners over at Crativ have just launched a non-hemp plant-based cannabis packaging line and continue to conduct hemp-plastic R&D. And others, like Denver-based Sana Packaging, have already started using a blend of hemp plastic in their packaging solutions.
Though hemp-plastic makes us hopeful for a greener future, it is difficult to say how long industry-wide implementation will take.
Routes to Green Cannabis Packaging
While many routes to making cannabis packaging green are out there, we find the following as the most plausible cannabis packaging sustainability drivers.
1. Hemp-Plastic Packaging
Hemp-plastic packaging has the potential to revolutionize the sustainability game for the better, forever. If ethically implemented, it would be the easiest, most direct route to industry-wide green packaging.
But, we don’t know when it will hit the mainstream and whether patents will be involved when it does. The rate of its adoption will depend on whether the first to launch intend to drive change across the industry or focus purely on increasing market share (i.e. patents).
Though unlikely in the near future, establishing packaging material standards at a legislative level would be the quickest way to spur industry implementation. To work, this would require encouragement from educated consumer advocates.
2. Consumer Education
In the meantime, we should focus on educating consumers to help sway demand away from unsustainable brands. The problem is that most users have no knowledge of the cannabis waste problem.
We encourage producers and dispensaries to share insights into sustainable packaging methods and materials, boast about their eco-friendly practices, teach consumers how to identify sustainable products and brands, and condemn unsustainable companies.
Doing so will produce informed consumers who make thoughtful purchase decisions, thereby redirecting demand away from unsustainable brands. Such brands will be left with two choices: adapt or die.
These passionate consumers will also serve as passionate advocates for the enactment of industry-wide packaging material standards.
3. Cannabis Packaging Legislation: Possible Amendments
A variety of different changes to cannabis packaging legislation would produce a more waste-free cannabis packaging landscape.
Child-proof packaging laws
Child-proofing laws were enacted to protect children and seniors from mistaking edibles for regular candy. But, it has been applied to all cannabis products, despite being difficult to accidentally consume. Differentiating child-proofing standards between product types according to the level of danger posed would limit packaging waste.
Returning packaging for reuse
Current legislation prevents companies from accepting packaging returns for reuse. If cannabis packaging law evolves to enable returns for reuse, a huge amount of waste could be saved.
Minimum level of biodegradability and hemp-based packaging
Legislation could specify a minimum level of biodegradability in packaging, which would, at the least, limit the amount of environmental harm from packaging. And, as mentioned above, making hemp-based packaging an enforced industry standard would come close to eliminating cannabis packaging waste.
Looking To The Future
As weed grows increasingly legal and increasingly mainstream, companies will actually risk revenue if they refuse to adopt more eco-friendly practices. With cannabis on the verge of nation-wide legalization, it won’t be long before media coverage and consumer research guide the pot head’s purchase decisions.
Perhaps the material used will be listed on the packaging for easier comparison, like the ingredients list on food and beverage items.
Or, with luck, differentiation won’t be needed; legislation will have forced all companies to use hemp-plastic.
In the meantime, research and compare brands before you head to the dispensary, follow the development of hemp-plastic, and boast about your brand’s sustainable practices on your socials.