The cannabis business is largely viewed as an industry built on acceptance, education, and safety: and rightfully so. This marketplace has made strides to limit its negative impact on the environmental scale, yet sustainable packaging has been largely exempt from these improvements, which still have a long way to go. So how can such a booming marketplace overcome the hurdles of going green and make the shift?
Every day, around 8 million pieces of plastic end up in our oceans, for a total of 381 million tonnes of plastic per year. The United States makes up around 38 million tonnes of that (over 9% of the global total). These staggering numbers result, in huge part, from mass packaging in plastic. Industries across the globe use plastic packaging and one of the biggest culprits is the cannabis market. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the Global Cannabis Packaging Market is expected to grow 23.4% over the next five years; this provides ample opportunity to celebrate the expansion of the marijuana industry while making strides in recyclable and nonplastic packaging.
Inconsistent regulations in cannabis packaging are the most significant obstacle the industry faces in terms of “going green.” One of the biggest regulatory hurdles that dissuade companies from going greener is the “seed-to-sale” tracking process required for every dispensary. This tracing requirement is in place for state-to-state and international sales. “Seed-to-sale” means that from the seed that is planted to the processors of the flower to the sale of the marijuana, every step is carefully detailed. Governments’ goal is to prevent cannabis from ending up on the black market (an important cause, for sure) and keep consumers safe. Therefore cannabis is monitored with careful labeling, codes, licenses numbers, and logos. This intense regulation does not have recycling packaging guidelines to inform it, thus pairing the strident “seed-to-sale” with the lackadaisical packaging. Because of the need for so much information on each label on top of the need for child-resistant and often tamper-evident, food-safe containers, innumerable cultivators/manufacturers/distributors opt for cheap, non-reusable plastic jars and bottles. It comes down to affordability, especially with businesses just starting out.
“Seed-to-sale” is not the only place that regulation encourages one-use plastic packaging, though. In the United States, marijuana is not legal federally, and therefore not regulated at the federal level. This means individual states control packaging regulations and have unique, individualized parameters. For example, in Florida, edibles must be wrapped individually in opaque, plain foil then placed in an opaque container with only a state-approved logo. In Washington, however, a myriad of edible labeling, including health risks and the language “may be habit-forming” must appear on the packaging. States and state regulators are not always very aware of what is going on in the cannabis industry, so they fall back to the regulation of prescription drugs.
One-use bottles or blister packs are standard in the prescription industry because they were created to help prevent illegal sales and overdoses. And one cannot necessarily blame these legislators and regulators – often, people stick with what they know. However, no one has ever overdosed on cannabis, and laws/regulations should reflect that accurately. Recyclable packaging is often cheaper for the distributor and consumer, yet state governments have been slow to implement it.
So how can businesses and consumers come together to create a more sustainable packaging future for cannabis in the face of often intense yet sloppy regulation? The good news is such options are out there! One of the best ways to help push environmentally conscious packaging is to educate companies, legislators, and customers about different options. Glass jars are a choice that many dispensaries make for larger amounts of flower, yet they are a fantastic and reusable choice for concentrate and any ounce-size of marijuana. Recyclable technology has even gotten to the point where companies can buy ocean plastic tubes for packaging their joints and cones. These tubes are made from recycled plastic that was pulled from the ocean – it’s hard to get more sustainable than that. The options are there but companies need to start using them exclusively, and consumers need to begin buying them.
Dispensaries and customers can also start by putting pressure on their individual state governments to rewrite packaging laws to become more recyclable and sustainably focused. Most states, if not all, require every time a customer buys a new product to have that in marijuana come in new packaging. However, if a repeat consumer brought in their mylar recyclable bags to be refilled whenever they need a new product, this would drastically reduce the plastic waste. Think of it like people bringing their reusable cups to the coffee shop in the morning, reducing the number of single-use plastic cups being used and thrown away. Change in regulations is essential to move the cannabis packaging industry towards full sustainability, and it is in the hands of citizens to help educate and push lawmakers in the right direction.
As much as everyone would love a simple, straightforward answer to how to make cannabis packaging more sustainable, much of this has to do with regulators, companies, and buyers and the decisions they make. The options are already out there and the prospects are good; customers are 78% more likely to buy a product if it has a label stating it is eco-friendly. As the cannabis industry grows, the possibilities for sustainable growth in the packaging market are endless – we just need to do something about making the switch.