Going green with your green: the future of the legal cannabis recycling issue

Alexander Dance
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Cannabis, Regulations
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When it comes to cannabis packaging, your green may not be as ‘green’ as you originally thought.

Due to heavy government regulations, there are many rules that go into how your cannabis is packaged to comply with advertising restrictions, access to minors and other industry restrictions and that is leading to a lot of packaging that isn’t being recycled.

This means that there is a lot of single use plastic produced. This is obviously not a unique problem in the modern world but as we’ll detail below recycling in the cannabis industry has its own unique barriers. But fear not for the environment, there are many innovative solutions to these negative environmental impacts.

The challenge with recycling in the cannabis industry

cannabis packaging waste
This amount of packaging was used for the sale of four grams of cannabis. Source: https://www.cbc.ca Greg Maclean

As the image above demonstrates a small amount of cannabis can come with a huge amount of packaging. According to an industry executive in the first year of legalization in Canada cannabis products produced 10,000 tons of waste and the vast majority of it goes into landfill. Colorado’s Sana Packaging estimates that the industry will produce 1 billion units of plastic packaging waste by 2020.

But how have we got to this situation? Let us break it down into stages:

Why does cannabis need so much packaging?

Regulations mean that there are specific standards companies have to meet when it comes to creating packaging for their product. These will vary from state to state but can cover everything from the the way the package is opened (it must be child resistant), the design of the packaging, the material it is made from, the scent or sounds the packaging makes, the typeface used and much more.

Here is a more extensive list on cannabis packaging restrictions that companies have to abide by in Canada’s legal market.

It is because of these requirements that producers of cannabis products create so much packaging waste.

Because of these very specific requirements, there are many different materials used in the packaging, making it very difficult to recycle because manual separation is needed for the recycling process. A consumer from New Brunswick, Canada bought 1 gram of cannabis and received 70 grams of cannabis packaging with it. It is a long way from the single zip-lock bag that most cannabis users were used to in the days of prohibition.

Why isn’t cannabis packaging recycled?

Cannabis packaging needs to be treated separately before it can be sent to a more generalized recycling plant. The lack of immediate access to such a service means that the vast majority of cannabis packaging goes unrecycled.

So, the problem isn’t that cannabis packaging can’t be recycled, it is that it isn’t. The barrier of needing to find a specialized service to manage the disposal of the packaging in a sustainable way means that most users chuck their recycling in with general waste and it ends up in landfill.

VICE Canada wrote that conservative estimations suggest hundreds of millions units are sold and discarded each year in the American cannabis industry. That is a lot of waste produced without clear methods of recycling such waste leaving landfills to continue getting filled up with large amounts of used cannabis packaging. 

You’re probably feeling a little helpless with yet another environmental issue to stress over. Many champions of cannabis praise it for being a natural medicine but it is having a huge negative impact on the environment! Well, all is not lost, there are some great solutions, innovative solutions in the works to make the world of cannabis packaging a greener space! 

Solution 1: Recycling Programs

Humans are simple creatures, more times than not, they will do something if there is a juicy reward waiting for them. This is why a reward system works perfectly. With initiatives to centralise the collection of cannabis packaging both in registered (licensed) dispensaries and collection machines, there is big promise for the future of the cannabis recycling problem. The consumers who participate in this will be rewarded with reward points that can be redeemed for products within the industry from participating businesses. 

This not only helps make the recycling process easier for consumers, it also benefits the dispensaries through driving customers back into their stores for potential repeat purchases. 

Solution 2: Utilising Marijuana Waste Disposal Services 

There are now companies that specialise in marijuana waste disposal like EcoWaste Services Inc or Cannabis Waste Recycling who are located in California, this offers an affordable, effective and fast solution to the disposal of cannabis waste. These companies even offer personalised waste management plans for businesses as well as environmental and industrial hygiene consulting services. This ensures that all waste disposal regulations are met and the environment is protected through proper disposal; a win-win for both business and the environment. 

Solution 3: Sustainable Design 

It is so important to incorporate eco-friendly design into the packaging of cannabis products. Companies need to steer away from traditional plastics and utilise materials like ceramic, glass or plant based plastics. We can look to our own industry for such alternatives, behold the magical versatility of hemp. As you may know, hemp can be made into plastic. This is groundbreaking and the perfect chance to support our own by being early adopters of such a sustainable material for use in the packaging of cannabis products.

Solution 4: Educating and Incentivising Customers 

This is an effective solution that will drive business behaviour to mirror the demands their customers have of them. Educating customers on the importance of properly recycling their cannabis packaging will lead to an increase in the numbers of properly recycled materials. With numbers comes economies of scale which reduce recycling costs and also push for political change, so the more people that know and understand, the higher chance there is for better policies to be in place when it comes to recycling used cannabis packaging. This is something Parsl will achieve by incorporating a reward system in our cannabis tracking system you can read more about how that will work in our blog post on innovation and environmentalism.

Although there are difficulties involved in recycling cannabis packaging, there are many potential solutions that exist now, and promise for even more solutions to arise within the future to solve the issue! 

What solution do you think has the most promise? Feel free to share your opinion below in the comments! 

Author: Alexander Dance
Alexander has worked in marketing and content creation for 6 years with a strong focus in the digital space. He has a strong grounding across all marketing channels with a specific focus in SEO, copywriting, video, conversion optimisation and design. He is passionate about evidence-based marketing.

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