The cannabis industry has a packaging problem. In fact, more broadly speaking, it has a sustainability problem. Regulations in legal states, aiming to childproof cannabis products, have had the side effect of creating massive waste, while cultivation can be energy and water intensive.
For the cannabis industry to be sustainable — whether from the perspective of greening the cultivation process or cutting back on packaging waste — consumers need to hold their favorite brands accountable, and support only those that do their part to reduce their environmental impact.
Here are a few ways cannabis companies or consumers can be sure to reduce pot's environmental footprint.
"Usually when you buy pre-rolls or flower, they come in plastic flip-top tubes, and for us — we've been devoted to not using plastic in any of our packaging," says Sean Black, co-founder and head of creative at Lowell Smokes. "You'll see that our jars are glass, and that our pre-rolls come in recycled or recyclable paper boxes, or in glass recyclable tubes. Our number one thing about sustainability is that everything must be made out of paper, cardboard, glass, or metal, and that everything is recyclable."
A forward-thinking packaging company based out of Colorado, SANA offers regulation compliant packaging for the cannabis industry, using 100 percent plant-based hemp plastic and 100 percent reclaimed ocean plastic. SANA's child-resistant, odor-resistant packaging allows companies to convert over, while retaining their brand image and language on the the packaging, be it for pre-rolls, edibles, vaporizers, or concentrates.
Some companies are using an oxygen-driven additive in their packaging (often polypropylene) to allow for accelerated degradation, no matter whether that packaging ends up in the ocean or in a landfill. In doing so, they can reduce packaging density and speed up degradation to within five to ten years, explains Sandra Elkind, co-founder and chief creative officer of STO Responsible. "We could have made it go faster, but if it's in a hot car, that will speed up the process, so we wanted to make sure we'd cover enough time of when it could be used," she says. "In that ten year span, it can still be recycled and reused."
Regenerate the Environment — Through Cannabis Cultivation
For regenerative agriculturists, the primary goal of growing any crop (cannabis or otherwise) is to remediate the environment first, and then secondarily grow a commercial crop. Regenerative cannabis is sungrown, and uses water sources, nutrients, and compost in a closed loop system so that the materials used to cultivate the crop come from the natural environment and won't destroy it when they go back into it. Think of regenerative agriculture as a few steps past organic, in that it's actively regenerating and purifying soil or water sources as part of the cultivation process.
Grow Your Own
The best way to avoid any cannabis packaging waste and ensure that your weed's environmental impact is low is to grow your own cannabis. Whether you grow your bud in a closet (still less energy intensive than an indoor grow operation) or on your patio, you can be sure to have more control over the purity of the soil, water source, and pest management regimen. And granted, with a few mason jars to store your bud, you can avoid packaging waste altogether.