How One Start-Up is Helping Cannabis Consumers Drive Environmental Change

by | Mar 28, 2022

Written by Casia Lanier

The legal cannabis industry produces around 1.5 million tons of waste per year. And although a significant portion of the waste produced is recyclable, still 292.4 million tons of solid waste goes to landfills each year.

While multiple state and national governments are pushing for a more regulated and environmentally friendly alternative for waste management to make the cannabis industry a more sustainable and reliable tax source, these efforts place the responsibility of waste management for a single industry onto the government, a tactic that is expected to produce slow or mixed results.

Cannachange is a company that helps both consumers and dispensaries make the cannabis industry more environmentally sustainable by providing a consumer-driven waste solution. The company, founded by O'Neil Rudolph – a Black, LGBTQIA+ woman – is dedicated to bridging the gap between waste management and consumer demand for sustainable practices.

Earlier this year, Cannachange launched a free app that incentivizes cannabis consumers to recycle their used packaging at their local partnering dispensaries for $5 credits towards their purchases. This app's technology works via QR codes that are specific to each dispensary, package, and customer. Customers can track their waste and recycling impact through the app and buy reusable cannabis packaging directly from Cannachange.

A Closed-Loop System

Traditional recycling simply doesn’t work – especially for plastic waste – because it costs more money to recycle existing plastic than to manufacture new, virgin plastic from nonrenewable resources.

Recycled materials are often mixed across different industries and recycled together with packaging that sometimes holds hazardous materials, making it difficult for cannabis businesses to guarantee the proper standards for their recycled packaging. Additionally, cannabis’s legal status as a hazardous substance creates restrictions and a complex web of local standards that not all recycling facilities meet.

Cannachange solves this problem by creating a closed recycling loop by which packaging is provided by the dispensary and recycled by the customer at the dispensary after use, therefore “eliminat[ing] any steps that would require consumers and retailers to use separate platforms,” says company founder and CEO, Rudolph. Where applicable, the dispensary distributes the unusable packaging at their partnering recycling facility, where the packages are made into future packages for that very same dispensary.

The app facilitates a relationship that allows customers to choose how their waste is managed and economically incentivizes them to choose the more sustainable option. Their local dispensary is rewarded for its investment in the recycling effort and participation with Cannachange by ensuring customer loyalty and a steady customer stream.

How Can Dispensaries Benefit Economically?

Regardless of industry, producing recycled plastic packaging is more expensive than virgin plastic packaging. This is a challenge that the cannabis industry has struggled to adapt to, depicting a profit-losing model. But Cannachange works to alleviate this burden and make themselves more attractive to the 96% of customers that believe that investing in sustainable solutions makes an impact.

When asked about how dispensaries can benefit economically from Cannachange, Rudolph explained that “Cannachange helps dispensaries differentiate themselves from others and leverage consumer concerns about packaging to do so.” She continues by expressing that “with so many dispensaries neglecting to actively address consumer concerns about packaging, those that do will greatly increase their profitability and strengthen their relationships with their customers.”

Offering customers, the one thing that other dispensaries aren’t, builds a loyal and concentrated customer base and eventually increases revenue. And as their partnerships with Cannachange become more normalized, other dispensaries may feel cultural and economic pressures to participate in the partnership to successfully compete in the same market with their more sustainably-minded peers.

How Big Is Cannachange’s Footprint?

Cannachange is currently partnered with a growing list of West Coast-based cannabis dispensaries and is currently branching into the East Coast market.

However, Cannachange does offer help in facilitating relationships with recycling services to interested dispensaries who neither have the infrastructure nor the resources to do so. According to Rudolph, dispensaries interested in partnering with Cannachange must meet a series of standards, such as having “a well-established relationship with a back-end recycling service.” Once dispensaries and recycling service providers become partnering entities, the company “requires annual reports…to track the recycling activity and ensure that retailers [they] work with maintaining [the] overall mission of sustainability.”

But tackling packaging waste isn’t the only thing Cannachange aims to fix. Rudolph envisions Cannabis being used for “other aspects of the industry that need increased sustainability efforts,” reaching “beyond [the] current program that's directly aimed at consumer and retailer involvement.”

In this regard, Cannachange can serve as a practical example for various parts of the cannabis industry to track and reduce waste while promoting consumer-driven business practices.

And although this effort starts within the cannabis industry, the potential for Cannachange’s business model to be adapted and adopted across other industries is very likely and relatively simple, making the company an industry ideal in both sustainability and customer service – something that the cannabis industry has waited a long time for.