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To illustrate just how bad the packaging problem is, two Canadians made headlines when they discovered a single gram of cannabis comes with 70 grams of packaging waste.
“The cannabis industry is in its infancy and also happens to be one of the most heavily regulated markets in the world,” Lucas Hildebrand, co-founder, and CEO of ReStalk told CannabisTech in an interview. “This combination has forced businesses to adapt to an ever-changing landscape where often reliable, environmentally sensitive packaging has typically been an afterthought in taking products to market.”
On the bright side, some inventive eco-friendly alternatives are being created to combat the cannabis industry’s alarming plastic waste problem.
The Cannabis Plastic Packaging Problem
Government regulations require strict packaging guidelines to ensure cannabis products are tamper-proof and child-proof, for good reason. Especially when cannabis comes in a wide variety of tasty treats like gummy bears and chocolate bars these days, it’s vital that kids (or even pets) can’t accidentally get into sampling an adult’s stash.
Unfortunately, these laws often require large amounts of single-use plastic waste to be created in the process of protecting the public. This contradiction makes it quite difficult for cannabis businesses to utilize sustainable packaging materials if they want to keep compliant with the law.
But with legal cannabis rapidly becoming one of the largest industries in the nation, not to mention the looming threat of climate change closing in on us, sustainable solutions to the plastic problem are genuinely needed.
In Colorado Springs, Colorado, one individual has made it his personal mission to reduce the number of plastics being thrown away. Working with several area dispensaries, a man, known only as “The Can Man,” is collecting the drams and tubes to recycle and then mold into specialty discs for the growing sport of disc golf. While ideas like this are certainly novel, the industry as a whole needs to make better packaging decisions for a more sustainable model.
An Eco-Friendly Packaging Solution
Luckily, there are some creative solutions out there for cannabis businesses that wish to reduce their waste production.
SunGrown Packaging, for instance, is the first company to invent an eco-friendly packaging solution for cannabis products. They offer a recyclable, compostable, child-resistant package — with no plastic whatsoever — that’s fully compliant with regulations.
The tab locking system allows adult consumers to open the package easily while preventing children and animals from accidental consumption.
SunGrown Packaging, based in Oakland, California, is currently working with many cannabis businesses around the US to reduce the vast amount of plastic that gets produced in this highly regulated industry.
Recycling Pulp into Paper
Another innovative company called ReStalk has been recycling and repurposing organic cannabis waste into paper. This solution tackles the two primary waste sources produced in the cannabis industry — organic waste and packaging waste.
ReStalk provides cultivators with secure receptacles on-site, which they pick up and take away once full. The organic waste is then transported to a processing facility where the material is broken down and soaked in an organic solution that completely removes any THC.
It’s then pulped and pressed into sheets, as shown in the picture below. This paper can then be used in the packaging of cannabis-related products.
ReStalk shared with CannabisTech in an exclusive interview that they just recently finished their first production run of recycled cannabis pulp, which was converted into a packaging-grade folding boxboard.
“The focus for ReStalk has been to apply systems and solutions which promote circularity while allowing businesses to begin distancing themselves from the reliance of single-use plastics, diverting organic waste from landfills and avoiding harvesting of trees,” ReStalk CEO, Lucas Hildebrand, explained.
Their closed-loop biodegradable solution is one more option available to cannabis businesses looking to become more sustainable.
Cannabis Plastic Packaging: What Else Can Be Done?
The first step on the road to sustainability starts with awareness of alternative options to wasteful practices, like the several solutions that have been highlighted in this series.
Waste management, including what to do with all that cannabis plastic packaging, is often a complete afterthought for most cannabis organizations — if they’re even thinking about it at all. That’s why educational awareness is crucial for changing attitudes and behavior towards the reuse, reduction, and recycling of cannabis waste streams.
The more people that are aware there’s a huge waste problem in the cannabis industry, the more our society is armed with the knowledge to change harmful practices through innovation and collaboration with one another.
Striving for sustainability is not an easy task by any means, especially in an industry so heavily regulated, but it’s something everyone in the cannabis industry should be putting more thought and action into.
This article is part 2 of a series on cannabis waste solutions. Follow this link to read part 1 on organic waste management.