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Business, Lifestyle

The Battle Against Plastic: Where Is All the Cannabis Packaging Going?

Chane Leigh

by Chane Leigh

July 17, 2022 08:30 am ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
The Battle Against Plastic: Where Is All the Cannabis Packaging Going?

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.

Post Your Comments

Meredith Tate says:

July 18, 2022 at 10:12 pm

I was recently told by a major supplier here In Denver”wish we would have connected sooner, we just threw away pallets of pop tops we would have given you” I’ve never been so disgusted in a meeting. They did it because they needed the warehouse space. There is SO much waste. I have started to collect overstock and unwanted inventories from defunct companies that can easily be rebranded. Have helped some fledging brands come out of the gate with a leg up on competion (bigger margins to entice retailers to pick them up and they have seen MASSIVE success). Hoping that the supply chain conditions and extremely competitive landscape help people adopt creative solutions and rethink using what’s already here. Thanks for highlighting this lady.

Chane Leigh says:

July 27, 2022 at 4:14 am

Hi Meredith,
Thank you very much for sharing this story of yours. It is so amazing to see people stepping up where others aren’t, and creatively so. I hope that your goal to impact the supply chain conditions to get people to adopt creative solutions is realized.

Harry says:

July 23, 2022 at 4:34 am

Why don’t they recycle at the dispensaries you can bring all your plastic back and a little glass bottles the house I’ll then it makes sense to me recycle

Chane Leigh says:

July 27, 2022 at 4:20 am

Hi Harry,
This is a good suggestion. While the cannabis industry and cannabis-based dispensaries are still young, they are starting to realize that solutions like these are necessary. Some dispensaries collect the plastics, which are then collected by people who reuse, or recycle the plastic. However, as Angela and Kevin (below) pointed out, recycling and reusing solutions are not enough- but its a start. We all like to point out these issues but there are few who are actually willing to do anything about it. Issues like these are bound to persisit as they would in any other industry despite the various opportunities for deal with the plastic packaging- Yet, we reamin hopeful that things will change.

Angela Fama says:

July 23, 2022 at 12:19 pm

It’s bewildering that the cannabis industry already has a sustainable solution in their possession: hemp, yet no one implements it! Why keep advocating for superficial fixes like recycling when we all know recycling simply isn’t enough. Even when I bring my containers in to recycle at Trulieve I ask “Where do they go? How are they re-used?” and no one ever seems to know. The cannabis industry can innovate and lead the way for a cleaner, greener future, not just succumb to the world of plastics. Why isn’t hemp being used in place of plastics? I just don’t get it. This article was disappointing to read, no real solutions.

Chane Leigh says:

July 27, 2022 at 4:09 am

Hi Angela,
We understand your frustration. However, this is a re-use solution to the plastics that are already being used in the cannabis industry. While we all want to see hemp plastic, fiber, etc since it’ll not only cater for the packaging needs of the cannabis industry but has the potential to fix the plastic problem worldwide, it is important to remember that much of the cannabis industry outsources their cannabis product packaging and for many people, it is still just a business- which means that they often sacrifice better solutions for cheaper expenses. Until hemp-plastic can be manufactured in a large quantity and for cheaper prices, we have a feeling that business will still opt for plastic over responsible packaging- this is the sad reality of any industry. At the very least, people like those at [Re]Waste are trying to make something out the current irresponsible packaging choices made by businesses. Then again, not all businesses think this way and there are those which have chosen to use the likes of hemp-plastic, hemp-leaves or even hemp-fibre but at the end of the day, we need to be realistic. We need solutions for all the current plastics being used while someone figures out how to mass produce hemp-plastic at an afforable price.

Chane Leigh says:

July 27, 2022 at 4:33 am

Hi (again).
I also just wanted to add this this article was not intended to “advocate for superficial fixes” but rather to show how innovative people are dealing with the plastic that is already being used. As you pointed out, no one could answer your questions regarding recycling…and as [Re]Waste pointed out, most recycling is just piled up with the rest of the trash anyway (but at least [Re]Waste is actually reusing these materials). Perhaps you could see the positive in this article from the perspective of people dealing with the current plastic use? If you would like to know why hemp isnt being used in the first place, consider the fact that its still considered a luxury item so companies producing thosands of products are not likely to use luxury packaging, which will then increase the product cost to customers, which is already expense… Yes, I know it should not be considered a luxury but this ugly cycle will continue until cheaper, mass producable solutions become available. In the meantime, people should not stand around and advocate against plastic use when people can advocate WHILE doing something with the current plastic in use. Let me ask you something, what are you doing about it?

kevin cannon says:

July 23, 2022 at 1:43 pm

why not use hemp to make biodegradable plastic, paper, fiber etc.

Chane Leigh says:

July 27, 2022 at 4:11 am

Hi Kevin,
Yeah, that would be a fantastic solution. However, not all cannabis businesses, like any other business in any industry, is concerned about responsible packaging. Please see my response to Angela above. I think my response to her concern is the best explanation we can offer at this point.

Cole Gibbs says:

July 29, 2022 at 6:16 pm

Let’s not forget that plastic destroys trichomes, greatly degrading the quality of the flower.


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