The Rise of Sustainable Packaging in the Cannabis Industry

The Rise of Sustainable Packaging in the Cannabis Industry

Ironically, herbal substances would be shipped and sold in excessive and wasteful packaging. Too often, cannabis packaging companies will package a few grams of cannabis flower in a plastic pop-top container and put that in an additional non-recyclable bag. Some of this excess is the byproduct of specific state packaging regulations. But the cannabis packaging industry could be more proactive toward integrating more sustainable packaging materials. 

Sadly, many sustainable packaging companies claim their product or packaging is sustainable, eco-friendly, or “green” when it isn’t. This is known as “greenwashing.” It’s deceptively easy for a company to appear as though they are on board with the latest eco-friendly packaging trends by using sustainable packaging when, in fact, they aren’t. 

Even the most well-meaning sustainable packaging companies can misstep. Their folding carton paperboard made from recycled paper could involve significant trade-offs. A low-carbon production technique could release harmful chemicals into the water table, or eco-friendly packaging might incur substantial emissions due to the shipping process. If the sustainable packaging materials are labeled as “recyclable,” that indicates that the materials can be reprocessed into specification-grade stock. But in many areas, the appropriate recycling facilities don’t exist, and the product never gets recycled – which throws into question the legitimacy of the level of packaging sustainability.

 Recyclable sustainable packaging indicates the materials have been manufactured with reclaimed, non-virgin materials that have been used before in other products. Typically in eco-friendly packaging, recycled materials are only a percentage of the total product; splicing in un-recycled virgin material improves the performance of the reclaimed materials, which often aren’t as durable.  

In the cannabis packaging industry, marketing departments use the terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” to emphasize the sustainability of their eco-friendly packaging. A biodegradable substance degrades from the natural action of microorganisms in the soil and breaks down to a microscopic level over a short period. On the other hand, compostable substances break down into usage soil that’s nutritious to plants. Humidity packs for weed are a common and popular biodegradable product. 

Without an overarching standard or certification for biodegradability in sustainable packaging, it could be argued that all materials — including conventional plastics — are biodegradable and will eventually break down into the soil. The caveat is that many plastic products take hundreds of years to achieve this. When you see a marijuana packaging company label its sustainable packaging materials as “biodegradable,” it’s a subjective claim. 

Happily, many marijuana companies are earnestly investing in the future of sustainable packaging. Based in Vernon, California, Marijuana Packaging is always looking for ways to recycle, reuse, and reduce eco-friendly packaging wholesale materials.

Some solutions include using pre-roll glass tubes with a cork, recyclable mylar bags, recyclable tin containers, and biodegradable joint tubes. Providing more sustainable product packaging costs the company a lot of money, but Marijuana Packaging believes it’s a worthwhile expense.

Many companies overwhelmingly encounter throw-away plastic bags and boxes and few recyclable, compostable, or sustainable cannabis packaging options.

Sadly, non-recyclable materials are considerably cheaper than recyclable packaging materials or biodegradable packaging. Depending on the volume of the order, sustainable packaging materials can cost 10%-19% more than the baseline cheaper packaging. As consumers prioritize packaging sustainability, many in the industry are starting to believe sustainable packaging is a worthwhile investment. The upfront cost will be offset by consumer demand for biodegradable cannabis packaging.

Marijuana Packaging also anticipates consumers being able to reuse their glass tubes, jars, and recyclable Mylar bags. The idea is to design it so people could and would want to hold onto it.

Other hemp and cannabis packaging companies have begun searching for sustainability in packaging to attract eco-conscious consumers. Companies are exploring various ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle cannabis packaging to lessen the industry’s impact on the environment and generate less waste.

Determining which materials are eco-friendly is often the first hurdle toward offering sustainable packaging. Taking the first step is often as straightforward as converting to plastic-free packaging. The next logical move is investing in recyclable Mylar bags, weed jars, pre-roll tubes, and cannabis tins.

It’s becoming more common for hemp packaging companies to embrace sustainable packaging initiatives.

Many cannabis packaging companies manufacture biodegradable or recyclable custom weed bags. The recyclable craft paper and polyethylene cost about 15%-20% more than standard packaging options. Some sustainable packaging companies manufacture their cans and pull tabs from reclaimed steel. The clear glass in one packaging line is from 56% recycled content, which dramatically reduces the number of raw materials needed to produce the glass. And pop top bottles are predominantly crafted with recyclable and biodegradable options.

And while it’s cheaper to manufacture products overseas, other considerations have arisen; recent supply-chain hiccups and the possibility of errors and higher quality and environmental standards in the U.S. have increased the urgency to create localized and sustainable packaging trends.

Benefits from sustainable packaging can come in many forms. Sourcing their sustainable packaging materials from North America helps U.S. companies reduce their carbon footprints. And reducing (or eliminating) shipping from overseas also offers dramatic reductions in freight costs and the environmental impact of enormous container ships. Sustainable packaging goes beyond the product on the shelf.

Some retailers have created programs to reduce waste that reward customers for returning recyclable packaging materials with points that customers can use for discounts.

Hemp based packaging is a burgeoning industry poised to replace plastic. But industry analysts expect it will take ten years or more for hemp to compete effectively on a cost basis with plastic. Additionally, because hemp packaging doesn’t always look professional and costs more than current packaging materials, it’s tough to sell it as a viable option for eco-friendly packaging for small businesses.

To avoid being mistaken for a “greenwashed” in the marketplace, display your product certifications. And, note any environmental certificates or recycled sustainable packaging materials – FSC Certified carton board or bioplastics.

Consumers don’t have the time or energy for extensive research about production processes and sustainability packaging growth. The first thing customers encounter when they experience your product is your packaging — it’s an essential cornerstone in your sustainability messaging. 

How can you underscore your packaging sustainability and convey your environmental conscience to consumers in straightforward, unimpeachable terms? Select sustainable materials when you can and communicate them as such on your label. That label, and the rest of your advertising, should convey your “greenness” — unlike the greenwashers, you’ll have the credentials to back it up. 

Most importantly, make sustainability an integral part of your brand story. Show a genuine and steadfast commitment to the environment and document it on your social media, websites, and ads. Donating time and money to environmental causes also shows you care. Be transparent, demonstrate your integrity, and back that up with a story that extends beyond your certifications.

Some packaging made from sustainably sourced materials can compromise product quality, and ultimately a viable packaging solution needs to protect the product. If the fidelity of recycled materials does not match conventional materials, it’s essential to strike a balance. Quality packaging must be environmentally friendly and effective.

Alongside other sustainable cannabis packaging companies, Marijuana Packaging remained an industry leader committed to eco-friendly packaging wholesale and determined to do its part to reverse global climate change.

In a perfect world, cannabis packaging would never end up in a landfill or even need to be recycled — customers would reuse it again and again. Until then, eco-friendly materials are the best option. But sustainable materials have limitations, and product quality is still critically important. 

Another piece of the sustainability puzzle is to design around the problem. Minimalist packaging stops waste before it starts; sleek, efficient designs reduce waste from packaging regardless of whether the manufacturer included recycled materials. Eliminating outer wraps and neck seals, ensuring labels are recyclable and reducing the weight of your package (aka “lightweighting”) go a long way toward solving the problem. 

A crucial part of sustainable cannabis packaging is material circulation – using recycled and recyclable plastics and alternative materials. However, not all plastics are created equal, nor are they equally harmful to the environment. PET and HDPE are fully recyclable and have a ~30% recyclability rate. But polypropylene, while recyclable, has approximately a 3% recyclability rate. Additionally, colored and opaque plastics aren’t recyclable but can be swapped for clear PET.

 Technological improvements and continuous innovation contribute to increasing eco-friendly plastic packaging solutions. Post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials have become one of the most popular options. 

Using recycled plastic reduces single-use plastic waste that fills our landfills and threatens our waterways. Bioplastics, made using renewable plant-based materials, are another excellent sustainable option. 

As customers become more eco-aware and gravitate toward sustainable cannabis packaging, it becomes essential to have your products in sustainable, eco-friendly packaging.

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