July 17, 2022 08:30 am ETEstimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
In light of Plastic Free July, we’re diving into the environmental impact of the cannabis industry—specifically, the plastic packaging that holds many of our canna-goodies. Plastic-based pollution has become one of the most significant environmental issues, according to National Geographic. The Mail & Guardian explains that each year there are about 14 million tons of plastic that “ends up in the ocean, harming nature, posing a threat to food security, human health, tourism and worsening climate change.”
Despite the fact that plastic is posing a serious threat to our planet, it is still widely used for packaging—including for many products found in both the illicit and legal cannabis markets. So where exactly is all that plastic going?
The Impact of Plastic on the Environment
In order to understand the importance of considering alternative materials for cannabis packaging as well as responsible waste management, let’s first get a better understanding of the impact of plastic on the environment. Forbes explains some of the ways in which plastic is harming the environment.
First, plastic can be found “absolutely everywhere” and it can clog street drains, cause litter and even kill wildlife (especially ocean life). A prediction by the World Economic Forum (WEF) explains that the mass of plastic in the ocean will exceed the mass of all the fish by 2050. Second, plastic is one of the main products of fracking—which is obviously bad for the planet. It can pollute water, put toxins in soil and air, create underground cavities that can become sinkholes, and even contribute to destabilizing rock formations.
Third, plastic is killing wildlife by choking, suffocating, entangling (trapping), causing intestinal blockage, and slowly poisoning them. Fourth, so many plastic products are not recyclable and those that are tend to not often get recycled and end up in places like the ocean or the belly of a bird.
Lastly, plastic lasts forever. So, if we keep producing it, using it, and not doing anything about its disposal, it’ll continue to pose risks to all future generations. While there are some other impacts to consider, let’s get into cannabis plastic packing as a contributor.
Cannabis Packaging: A Danger to the Planet?
Mark Hay of MIC explains that“legal weed often comes wrapped in excessive amounts of plastic,” which is “so odd—jarring even” since the cannabis industry “wants to do well with respect to its impacts on the environment.” While there are no current agencies to report on what is happening with all the plastic from cannabis packaging, Hay explains that American industry insiders sell over a billion units of cannabis product every year, which “likely translates to thousands of tons of plastic packaging.”
Most of the plastic packing used for cannabis products is classified as single-use plastic since they are designed to be done away with after opening and use. Hay goes on to state that most of it ends up as litter or in a landfill, “even if it was placed in a recycling bin.”
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Melissa Green from MM Green, a cannabis packaging firm, tells Hay that “it kills some of them to put organically-grown, lovingly-tended cannabis into mylar [a term typically used to refer to plastic film] plastic bags.” She says cannabis producers want their packages to be as “green” as their products but that “a confluence of regulatory restrictions, economic pressures, and other practical concerns make plastic unavoidable for many.”
While cannabis plastic is a major concern, especially considering how the industry is booming, there are those who are trying to be innovative with their packaging by using materials such as cardboard, stainless steel, or even plant matter—but it’s not enough to classify the industry as “green.” One of the other ways we can do something about cannabis plastic packaging is to recycle—which is exactly what the Edmonton startup [Re] Waste is doing.
[Re] Waste’s Cannabis Packaging Recycling
Corey Saban started [Re] Waste in his garage, and the company now operates out of a large warehouse. The company “has innovative solutions for plastic collection and recycling process” and its success is “primarily thanks to cannabis containers,” reports Global News. Saban explains that “customers would take the cannabis containers back to the retail stores and we would collect all of those containers on a monthly basis” and then they credit cannabis consumers for being “avid recyclers.”
He adds that “at such a young industry, there’s an opportunity to promote change and the customers are the ones driving these programs. They know that cannabis containers have a lot of plastic that’s just wasted.”
What makes [Re] Waste forward-thinking is that the company understands that plastic put in the recycling bin is hardly ever recycled. The team also knows that the city of Edmonton will not spend time or money sorting “contaminated or inconsistent plastics to sell to a market with no buyer,” which is where [Re] Waste comes in.
The startup sorts the plastic, processes it, and then manufactures new products that they are able to sell. The company explains that it uses 100% of the recycled cannabis plastic to make “cannabins” (plastic bins), shelving units, concrete, and more. What makes the fact that they use 100% of the recycled plastic significant? Most companies tend to be selective about what recycled plastic they use since they need a consistent plastic material.
“Oftentimes the plastic container would just go to landfill—which is much cheaper of an option—but that’s where companies are investing in better programs to support their goals,” explains Saban. According to Global News, Saban’s startup has “diverted 100,000 containers from landfill” so far and is working closely with Goodwill to “create a customized Manufacturing program to repurpose their recycled plastic flakes into products.”
A Greener Cannabis Industry
As an industry that promotes botanical products that are grown responsibly, it is imperative that alternative packaging materials to plastic be considered (or means of responsible recycling be chosen). The cannabis industry is special in the sense that it provides a better alternative to pharmaceuticals, so why not continue to trail-blaze by becoming a plastic-responsible industry as a whole?
Where alternatives to plastic can be used, they should be. Where incentives for consumer recycling can be created, they should be. Where there is a will, there is a way, and the cannabis industry has already shown us that it’s capable of anything—even overcoming the plastic crisis.
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