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Cannabis Regulations Have Created A Packaging Waste Problem

by Rudy Sanchez on 10/26/2018 | 2 Minute Read

The path towards legalization of cannabis on a national level has moved at a glacial pace. In nine US states, recreational cannabis is legal, and this last October, Canada became the second country (following Uruguay) to legalize the use of the kind herb. Many nations have varying degrees of decriminalization for cannabis possession and use, stopping short of legalization and treating usage as a minor offense.

While legalization has brought some positives, like increased tax revenue, freeing up law enforcement resources and increased tourism, it’s not all flowers and sunshine. With legalization comes packaging regulations which have created two unintended consequences some cannabis consumers are starting to notice: more packaging waste and the inability to reuse cannabis packaging.

Prior to legalization in places like California, there were no rules regarding cannabis packaging. Dispensaries sold product in everything from baggies to beautiful, professionally-designed packaging. Some environmentally-conscious pot shops offered discounts or free product to consumers that BYO’d or returned canisters used to package flowers.



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California, Washington, and a few other states require child-proof packaging, which is almost always plastic.  Vials are typically made from virgin plastic, and the containers normally used for packaging flowers are recyclable, so long as they aren't colored as many states require opaque packaging. Mylar bags, used for everything from flowers to edibles, are accepted by only three recycling facilities. Packaging for other products like prerolls and concentrates, while made of recyclable materials, are too small for processing and could end up in a landfill, despite consumer's best intentions.

Cartridges used for vaping cannabis oils are mostly made of single-use plastic and are too small and dirty to make it through a recycling center.


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Colorado's Sana Packaging, a cannabis packaging manufacturer, estimates that the cannabis industry will produce 1 billion units of plastic waste annually by 2020. Sana aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the cannabis industry by creating plant-based packaging that is compliant with state regulations.

Even if you develop environmentally friendly materials, there’s still an awful lot of packaging being used to house a relatively small amount of cannabis. Regulations demand that there’s plenty of real estate for labeling, but that doesn't mean it's not excessive.  One Canadian cannabis consumer recently found that there were 38 grams of packaging used just to house one gram of weed.

So what’s an environmentally conscious stoner to do? For starters, support cannabis producers and retailers that are using recyclable or compostable packaging whenever possible. Recycle cannabis packaging: while plastics are prevalent, some elements like paperboard are also present, so some pieces of packaging are recyclable. In states that mandate exit packaging, such as California, reuse your exit bag as you would grocery bags.

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