Plastic waste has become a significant issue within the cannabis industry, further complicated by regulations that restrict the type of packaging that can be used. In 2020, the U.S. cannabis industry used nearly one billion pieces of single-use plastic, much of which ended up in landfills. As the legal adult-use market continues to expand globally, addressing this issue may seem daunting.
However, several innovative companies are taking steps to reduce packaging waste, and cannabis users can also contribute by upcycling and repurposing their packaging. This article will highlight the efforts of these companies and provide suggestions for individuals to reduce, reuse, and recycle their cannabis packaging.
Companies Making a Difference
CULTA, a vertically-integrated craft cannabis producer in Maryland, has joined the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition in 2022 as part of their sustainability roadmap.
“CULTA, like many other cannabis companies, acknowledges that we have a long way to go,” said Renier Fee, senior marketing director at CULTA. “We are aware that we are part of the problem, and we strive to create honest dialogue that inspires change on our sustainability journey.”
In recent years, as waste management has gained significant attention from consumers and governments worldwide, several organizations have emerged to focus on recycling, regulation, and improving cannabis packaging. Two notable companies in this space are The High 5 Initiative and N2 Packaging.
The High 5 Initiative
In 2021, CULTA partnered with The High 5 Initiative, a Maryland-based company working to divert Polypropylene or “#5” plastics from landfills. Through this collaboration, CULTA’s patients can return their plastic packaging to be recycled by The High 5 Initiative team.
The process involves patients bringing their packaging to CULTA, where the High 5 Initiative team hand-sorts and separates each material. The #5 plastics are ground and stored, while the other materials are properly disposed of, resulting in over 95% of the packaging being kept out of landfills. Once 5,000 pounds of #5 plastics are processed, the material is sent to a secondary processing facility in the US, where it becomes Post Consumer Resin (PCR), a raw material utilized by manufacturers.
Phil Ash, Executive Director of The High 5 Initiative, stated, “Through our recycling initiative, pop tops can enjoy a new life as a bumper, air conditioner, or some other non-food grade product. Ultimately, we hope to see plastic waste in the cannabis industry drastically reduced, if not eliminated.”
N2 Packaging Systems
N2 Packaging Systems, a fellow member of the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition, focuses on sustainable packaging solutions for the cannabis industry. Their products are sourced and made from recycled or recyclable materials, with a particular emphasis on metal cans with biodegradable composite child-resistant lids. These cans and lids are not only eco-friendly but also meet all federal safety standards, while being child-resistant and accessible to seniors.
Thom Brodeur, CEO of N2 Packaging Systems, emphasized, “Our proprietary 2Can™ with N2 Nitro Inside™ is a nitrogen-infused packaging solution that hermetically seals product moisture while protecting against the enemies of product freshness—light and oxygen. Furthermore, our packaging solution mitigates the toxic issue of terpene leaching commonly found in glass and plastic alternatives. We hold patents in 12 countries for this innovation.”
The Price Factor
Transitioning to eco-friendly packaging options is not always easy for cannabis companies, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on supply chains and labor shortages. Arthur Hapner, director of procurement at CULTA, shared, “If CULTA were to switch from mylar bags to eco-friendly cellulose packaging, the cost would be 10-15 cents higher per bag. While this may seem insignificant to the average consumer, it poses a challenge for wholesale operations.”
Another hurdle is that many cellulose bags are thinner and perceived to be of lower quality. Thus, cannabis companies face increased expenses while potentially disappointing customers who associate sturdier packaging with better product quality.
Climate change, driven in part by pollution and plastic waste, affects everyone. Our individual actions can make a significant difference alongside industry regulations and supply chain changes. When it comes to reducing waste in the cannabis industry, efforts fall into three categories: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Reducing the use of cannabis is not the suggestion here. Instead, a strategy involves purchasing cannabis in bulk or larger sizes to minimize the number of jars and exit bags used. Various tools and technologies are available to keep cannabis fresh for longer periods, and buying in larger quantities can help reduce waste. This blog post provides further guidance on maintaining cannabis freshness.
Reusing cannabis jars and packaging is an easy and effective solution. These items can be repurposed for various household uses, such as plant pots, DIY candles, organization tools, travel bags, or smell-proof containers for spices. The versatility of cannabis jars makes them ideal for storing small items like loose tea, earrings, paperclips, headphones, and more.
Recycling is essential, although it can be more challenging for cannabis packaging due to the use of #5 plastics, which are notoriously difficult to recycle. However, initiatives like The High 5 Initiative are working to address this issue. When visiting a dispensary, inquire about any recycling programs they participate in. If they do not have such a program, consider speaking to the owner or manager and suggesting the implementation of recycling initiatives. Your voice can make a difference.
In addition to reducing, reusing, and recycling, it is vital to know how to properly and safely dispose of certain items. GAIACA offers helpful resources that provide guidance on the responsible disposal of products like vape pen batteries.
Working Together for a Greener Future
Reducing plastic waste in the cannabis industry requires collective effort. Both cannabis companies and individual consumers have a role to play in making a difference. By embracing the principles of reducing, reusing, and recycling, as well as partnering with organizations committed to sustainability, we can create a greener future and serve as an example for other industries.
Renier Fee expressed CULTA’s dedication to fighting climate change and reducing waste, stating, “At CULTA, we have set aggressive long-term goals. We hope you will join us in making this commitment.”
*Note: Medical cannabis is only for certified/qualifying patients aged 18 years or older.