Addressing Imminent Environmental Concerns for Cannabis Packaging

By Cherlene Erauda, Marketing Coordinator at Calyx Containers

2021 will be a groundbreaking year in U.S. cannabis legalization, with key states such as New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, and Virginia ratifying adult-use and decriminalized possession. As the industry scales, it is now more important than ever to address the imminent environmental concerns associated with increased, widespread demand and production.

The cannabis industry holds both great responsibility and great potential for sustainable packaging as it is a niche of consumers and businesses alike. Consumers directly impact the industry’s carbon footprint. And with the rise of environmentally conscious markets, there will be increased expectations for sustainable innovation that other consumer packaged goods are also currently experiencing.

However, the cannabis industry has extremely specific issues concerning sustainable packaging design. These cannabis-related businesses must carefully consider numerous conflicting licensing and compliance regulations, which could generate even more waste if sustainable practices are not adapted at an industry level.

The most prominent issue is that marijuana packaging designs must adhere to Child Resistant (CR) tamperproof requirements and other crucial compliance standards. These requirements cause tailored issues when it comes to recyclability and sustainability. A packaging solution might appear to be eco-friendly, but if it is lined with multiple layers of different materials such as metal and mylar, it can cease to be so. When two materials are bonded together – such as a metal container manufactured with a CR plastic ring, or Polyethylene (PE) foam seals adhered to Polypropylene (PP) caps – the final product is too impure to recycle at waste collection facilities.

Compliance solutions such as a CR zipper on bags pose the same problem. However, even cannabis bags without a CR zipper can also be considered non-recyclable. This is due to the same issue; multiple materials used to manufacture the bag itself.

And although packaging technologies in other industry sectors such as food and beverage have begun to create recyclable or biodegradable films, none of these solutions require an additional CR mechanism. If blending various materials together disallows them from being taken apart, and with no existing infrastructure designed for this type of packaging, it’s likely that these products will end up in landfills at the end of their lifecycle. The cannabis industry, as the odd man out, would need to find another innovative solution regardless.

Labeling cannabis packaging poses its own issues, as the additional material required to stay compliant such as paper or ink, can disrupt recyclability. These strict regulations apply to all facets of cannabis labelling, such as properly signaled health warning labels, an adequate space provided for batch specific information, and even the permitted level of opacity. These laws and regulations also differ state-by-state, meaning that these packaging brands should be prepared to adjust their products and services to the current climate of the industry as well as the varying needs of customers.

Hundreds of thousands of labels are printed daily for the scaling demand of cannabis consumer goods. Unfortunately, not all of them are sustainable. Certain packaging solutions such as Calyx Containers offer white or clear labelling on a compliant, recyclable, opaque container. But metallic labels, which are also offered, must be peeled off prior to recycling. There continues to be a considerable need for cannabis packaging designs that allow customized, compliant labelling to optimize brand identity without hindering the container’s recyclability.

Infrastructure for Sustainability

Another important factor to creating a sustainable packaging solution is establishing the infrastructure to collect and sort the waste. If a consumer doesn’t take the correct steps to dispose of their packaging, it is likely to end up in a landfill. There needs to be a process to address these particular materials at end of lifecycle so that material recovery facilities, reclaimers, and buyers of recycled materials can make use out of what would otherwise be landfill waste.

Successful sustainable packaging companies should not only offer environmentally conscious products, but also integrate sustainability into their business practices. Packaging and inventory management companies such as Calyx Containers go beyond conscious raw material selection by incorporating sustainability into all stages of the product’s lifecycle. Sustainable companies seek to minimize waste, energy, and material during the entire process, from manufacturing to transit to the end-consumer. Business decisions such as using less packaging material, optimizing space utilization during transit, and decreasing transit time by sourcing domestically create an efficient system that also positively impacts our planet. Conscientious business practices can be incorporated into retail as well, such as give back programs or loyalty rewards for returning a container. The more we incorporate sustainability into the evolving culture of cannabis, the better our industry will be because of it.

Sustainability in the cannabis space is complex, but must be addressed to properly encourage consumer-conscious decisions. While adapting to compliance standards in the current legalization climate, companies have the opportunity to set the standard of using sustainable, recyclable, or biodegradable materials to offset their carbon footprint. This industry, like many other industries, has a lot of work to do in terms of implementing sustainable business practices. At the same time, the cannabis industry has the most to benefit from creating a circular economy, as the niche demand creates the opportunity for companies to provide a branded experience in line with their sustainable values. In a nutshell, the most successful cannabis packaging brands do not sacrifice an exceptional customer experience relating to design, durability or customization, for necessary compliance standards and eco-friendly goals. These brands recognize the ripe opportunity and adapt their business to the modern day culture of cannabis.

About the Author:

Cherlene Erauda is a cannabis industry professional based in Boston, MA. Her experience as a medical budtender cultivated her passion for the plant and the people around it. As a 2020 graduate of Bryant University, Cherlene has experience as a co-editor for the Bryant Literary Review publication, and as a major event specialist catered to international and multicultural-domestic students.

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