Placing itself at the forefront of sustainable packaging regulations, New York state Sen. Michelle Hinchey proposed a bill to mandate industrial hemp as the primary source of packaging materials for N.Y. state-manufactured cannabis products.
Hinchey is the chair of New York’s Senate Agriculture Committee. She believes the move to industrial hemp packaging helps tackle climate change, gives small farmers a competitive edge, and boosts economic development.
“There is no other natural resource that offers the same environmental, agricultural, and economic potential as hemp,” Hinchey said.
A sustainable industrial hemp industry would provide increased opportunities for small businesses and independent farmers in the state.
New York’s Office of Cannabis Management and Empire State Development will establish a Sustainable Cannabis Packaging Incubator Program if the bill passes. The program would provide financial incentives to farmers and entrepreneurs who contribute to developing and using environmentally friendly, hemp-based packaging materials.
“We won’t use plastics. We’ll be using something…biodegradable, that will support our farmers, specifically New York State farmers – small- and mid-sized family farms with a new product and create the demand,” Hinchey said.
Hinchey’s bill would challenge participants in the incubator program to create compostable and biodegradable packaging made from at least 30% hemp. Only eligible New York farms, businesses, or individuals can provide Hemp materials for the program.
“We have an incredible opportunity to unleash the potential of biodegradable hemp-based products that slashes our use of plastics, incentivizes farmers and entrepreneurs to be part of this innovation stage, and propels an industry that has not reached even a fraction of its full potential,” said Hinchey.
Colorado-based Sana Packaging specializes in sustainable packaging for the cannabis industry, including hemp-based and reclaimed plastics. Co-founder and chief strategy officer James Eichner applauds the spirit of Hinchey’s proposal but adds that hemp can’t solve all the cannabis industry’s packaging challenges.
“[This bill] doesn’t take into account the many complexities in the cannabis packaging industry such as the absence of FDA approved hemp materials suitable for packaging,” Eichner said. “Additionally, there is no consensus on the definition of ‘biodegradable’ which further complicates the issue.”
Packaging requirements for cannabis projects vary from one jurisdiction to another, with most mandating child-resistant containers for licensed marijuana products. Labeling requirements or provisions calling for opaque containers also limit the packaging options.
Unlike petroleum-based plastics, hemp- or other plant-based plastics take advantage of a renewable resource and can biodegrade in three to six months. Traditional materials can take hundreds of years to break down.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency data, between 2010 and 2018, the amount of discarded plastic increased by 4.3 million tons per year. Much of that increase was caused by containers and packaging.
New York’s cannabis laws allow consumption wherever tobacco is permitted, even at the New York State Fairgrounds.
The Senator’s plan to help out farmers is similar to the governor’s hopes that cannabis legalization will create plenty of jobs.
Hinchey’s bill, S.7508, is awaiting further action in the Senate Rules Committee.