Cannabis Packaging in Canada
If you’ve ever purchased an eighth of flower, disposable vape cartridge, pre-roll, or one gram of cannabis extract, you’ve likely found yourself throwing away the product’s packaging or even trying to recycle it. Most cannabis packaging, however, ends up in the landfill because its made from non-recyclable number 5 polypropylene plastic or it's too small and impractical to recycle by recycling companies. While many companies in the industry are going greener with their packaging, others find state packaging and labeling regulations too burdensome to bear. Unfortunately, packaging and labeling regulations and cheap plastic have lead to an unprecedented amount of packaging waste.
How Big of an Issue is Weed Packaging Waste?
China’s ban on foreign waste including “dirty” and “hazardous” nonrecyclable materials in 2017 signaled an end to the United State’s dependence on China as a recycling hub. The U.S. exported one-third of its recycling and half of that used to go to China. That puts plastic recycling in the U.S. in a precarious position, especially cannabis companies.
Typically, an eighth of flower (1.75 grams) will come in an opaque plastic container weighing about 10 grams. That weight is six times as much as the flower’s weight. Packaging waste is worse for concentrates products that can come in packaging that is up to 30 times its weight. Most of the packaging isn’t even recyclable, either.
Flower and concentrates aren’t the only product categories contributing to packaging waste. Most state packaging and labeling regulations require a host of information including health warnings, ingredient list, cannabinoid content, testing results, batch number, and more product information to prevent accidental or overconsumption by adults, children, and pets.
Why It’s Difficult to Recycle Cannabis Packaging
Every step of the purchasing process is littered with unnecessary waste, from the single-use plastic packaging on pre-rolls to the nonrecyclable exit bags you’re required to carry out of the dispensary. For example, pre-roll tubes are made from polypropylene plastic due to states’ stringent packaging laws on individual units. Similar to concentrate containers, these small plastic packaging pieces are not able to be sorted out at a recycling facility.
Cannabis bag packaging such as Mylar bags are not usually accepted at recycling programs, either. Mylar, or polyethylene terephthalate plastic film, is used to make resealable bags for edibles or concentrates to keep them fresh. Child-resistant exit bags used for purchased products are also not recyclable due to their mixed material composition.
There are no easy fixes for a problem that goes beyond the cannabis industry. Some cannabis companies are choosing to make their packaging more lightweight to reduce their carbon emissions during the supply chain. Other companies are using recycled, recyclable, or compostable content to make eco-friendly packaging, albeit, at a premium cost. Eco-conscious dispensaries and companies are enacting return programs that give customers discounts for bringing in their used containers.
The cannabis market is a nascent industry that is well on its way to finding solutions to its packaging waste problem. As a consumer, you can consider purchasing larger amounts per dispensary visit, bring in a reusable container, and buy from sustainable companies. While it may not be easy or even possible for most to buy sustainable products all of the time, it’s important to consider our effect on a larger packaging waste problem that goes beyond the cannabis industry.