Sustainable Weed – Packaging

This article is part two of a five-part series exploring the environmental challenges inherent in the existing model of cannabis legality. Previously, we addressed the three primary concerns regarding the ecological impacts of the cannabis industry: packaging waste, pesticide use, and the high-energy needs of indoor growing techniques. This article will analyze packaging waste, specifically, offering solutions consumers can employ to reduce packaging waste at the personal level.

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Strict legal regulations generally encourage an abundance of packaging, by mandating that products are tamper-proof and child-proof, along with an avalanche of visible warnings. While this regulation exists for a good reason, it adds another layer of complexity when producers attempt to adapt to the demands of zero-waste packaging. However, there’s no regulatory limit to the amount of packaging allowed to encase a retail cannabis product. This issue is unique to legal cannabis models, because black-market cannabis did not bear the same regulatory burdens in regards to packaging. Ergo, the implementation of “zero-waste” cannabis packaging is subject to the discretion of the producer/processor, and is often costly and prohibitive.

Soulshine is one of the cannabis producers pioneering the use of environmentally responsible packaging materials. Their pre-roll and flower packaging features 100% recyclable cardboard, a fully compostable transparent “viewing window,” vegetable-based ink, and a completely biodegradable package. Bulk quantities of their flower is sold in glass jars (which can, like all glass jars, be reused indefinitely).

One of the primary obstacles preventing other companies from following-suit is expense. Competition in the Washington State cannabis market is intense; there are nearly twice as many producer/processors as there are dispensaries, which results in sharp competition for limited shelf space. This competition dramatically lowers the price of cannabis (we’ve watched as cannabis prices have gradually fallen in Washington since legalization), which, in turn, encourages producers to lower production costs by any means necessary. The use of biodegradable packaging is undoubtedly expensive, which can dramatically cut into the already-thin profits many producers/processors depend on to remain afloat. A transfer to waste-free packaging will inevitably raise the price of cannabis, which will, of course, have the most negative impact on customers and medical patients who lack wealth privilege.

Aside from purchasing socially and environmentally-minded cannabis products, you can also examine the types of packing you’ll encounter at a dispensary to make the best possible choices. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Glass jars are infinitely reusable. If your cannabis comes in a glass jar (which is especially common with bulk quantities of 7 grams or more), you can wash and reuse the same jar forever. Flower, pre-rolls, and dabs can sometimes be found in glass packaging.
  2. Compost your pot! Seriously. According to Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board Regulations (specifically WAC 314-55-097) all cannabis materials which are less than 10% THC should be composted in the green municipal composting bins.
  3. Roll your own. Those plastic “doob tubes” aren’t actually recyclable, even if the container says it is. According to the Public Utilities page, any plastic container with a lid less than three-inches in diameter will go to a landfill. This is because the containers are small enough to slip through the conveyor belts at recycling facilities. The solution? Buy your flower in a reusable glass jar and roll your own joints.
  4. Use glass smoking-devices (or vaporizers). Echoing off the last point, using pipes or bongs instead of joints will help reduce the number of roaches (the remaining stub of a smoked joint) going into landfills.
  5. Use cartridges sparingly. The cartridges from vape pens, tragically, cannot be recycled or easily repurposed. Although they are convenient, they are wasteful as well, and some cartridges can potentially leak metallic toxins once they’re in landfills.
  6. (Bonus) Pressure your elected officials. The most impactful changes that will protect our environment from degradation will not happen at the individual level, but rather, will occur at a regulatory level.

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