June 5th is World Environment Day. What better time to look at the environmental footprint of packaging in the cannabis industry.
Many environmentally-conscious retailers and consumers can agree on a few things. One is that dropping nugs into plastic drams customer after customer is less than ideal. The other—dispensaries typically have to use compliant childproof packaging to be able to send products out the door, which adds to the footprint.
We wanted to address the problem of waste in the cannabis industry as well as what forward-thinking packaging solutions are available to help reduce the footprint.
Stemming from the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, regulators were crystal clear about one thing—cannabis products shouldn’t get into the hands of minors. The law helped reduce the number of children getting their hands on mainstream medicine. As a preventative measure, childproof locks were implemented on pill bottles, and dispensaries used similar packaging in the early years of dispensing medical cannabis.
Pill bottles are transparent, so they can still be enticing to minors, and they are made of plastic that doesn’t biodegrade. As a result, many states started requiring dispensaries to place cannabis drams or bottles inside opaque child-resistant pouches to further conceal the products. This solution added more materials to the process.
VICE’s, Weed Packaging Rules Are Wasteful Overkill, specifies why regulations make packaging such a challenging issue:
Practically every cannabis product comes in a plastic package, whether it’s a vape cartridge, liquid drops, wax, or just plain ol’ buds. Packaging cannabis, by its very nature, is wasteful, as containers can range from four to 30 times the weight of the products they contain. Sustainability shortcuts like buying in bulk isn’t an option, either. Family-sized value bags of pot-laden peanut butter cups don’t exist due to laws that restrict THC amounts in each package.
Regulations like purchasing limits pose a strict barrier for cost-conscious solutions, like buying in bulk. Reduce, reuse, and recycle seems like the perfect mantra for the industry, but it comes with its own complexities.
Cannabis cartridge recycling & compliance
Currently, most vapor cartridges are designed to be disposable, making them easy to use but especially hard to repurpose. The fact that wholesale deliveries often happen periodically, so unless your cannabusiness business is vertically integrated, it can be challenging to arrange the return of empty cartridges for the brand’s future reuse.
Some companies have found eco-friendly vape solutions, like CannaCraft and TerraCycle. Project CBD discusses the evolution of these solutions, how they work, and how state support has helped:
In 2019, CannaCraft, Inc., a major cannabis producer based in Santa Rosa, CA, modified its manufacturing process to childproof vape cartridges without adding extra single-use plastic—an innovation commended by the California Department of Public Health. CannaCraft produces two million vape cartridges annually.
The New Jersey-based business TerraCycle has developed a national recycling program for vape cartridges, as well as other kinds of cannabis packaging. It’s part of the company’s larger mission to partner with businesses and local governments seeking to dispose of hard-to-recycle waste, such as coffee pods and other plastics. Terracycle operates various recycling programs in 21 countries, but its only cannabis-focused waste program is in Canada.
While recycling glass cartridges and other reusable materials may seem like an easy solution, in most states, zero remnants of cannabis oil can remain in these materials for compliance. Regulators don’t want brands mixing batches or test results.
When it comes to flower drams and exit bags, some cannabis packaging companies are developing sustainable, common-sense solutions using hemp to package cannabis products. Paper and reclaimed plastic can significantly impact a manufacturer’s environmental footprint and lead to valuable branding opportunities.
Here are five materials to look for when evaluating packaging sustainability, thanks to an eco-friendly list by Cannabis Tech:
“Their canning system applies Nitrogen to the can and seals the flower in, blocking oxygen from accessing the buds and drying them out. They can travel without crushing colas, can be branded for good marketing, and best of all, can be recycled after use.”
Both compliance and marketing play a significant role in this decision. Customized packaging allows cannabis product manufacturers to give themselves branding space in an industry where effective marketing is infamously tricky.
Cannabis manufacturers get caught up on cost and branding. However, a number of these options are customizable. Retailers and brands can find product packaging that can be both child-resistant and attractively designed. The design element is essential because it generates branding opportunities and the locking capability helps ensure consumer compliance, preventing regulators from coming up with even stricter rules to follow.
After it is all said and done, the consumer dictates the market. If consumers begin to focus on products that are pesticide-free and packaged with recyclable materials, then the brands will follow. Today, the modern consumer tends to care more about the ethos of a brand and its ability to give back in general.
One of the most important realizations for cannabis manufacturers is that they aren’t in this alone. Cannabis packaging companies are working with product developers, cannabis industry designers, and compliance consultants to offer solutions that maximize the viability of their products across state markets. Third-party vendors like the ones listed above often offer the most cost-effective options for obtaining these results in a scalable way while minimizing risk.
States or provinces with local environmental efforts may also help join the sustainability cause. Take NJ regulators, for instance, who are requesting a commitment to environmental impact solutions for applicants to win a recreational cannabis license. Anything you can do to go green and reduce harm to the environment will impress regulators and give them more reason to support your cannabusiness.