It takes money to grow cannabis. You need to pay for power, nutrients, water, and as any grower will tell you, there’s a lot more. These practical costs can be a little overwhelming, and we haven’t even gotten to the back end of the operation! There are going to be costs throughout the grow cycle of your cannabis and sometimes these costs can be frustrating, but not nearly as frustrating as seeing some of those costs contributing to literal garbage. And in commercial cannabis, waste is the final result. What am I talking about? Cannabis packaging.
The packaging problem in cannabis really comes down to compliance. Medical and recreational states, while kind to cannabis, still need to regulate packaging with regard to things like child safety. On top of this safety concern, cannabis producers are also required to include packaging information on any chemicals that were used to produce the product, where the harvest came from, harvest dates, warnings, cannabinoid information and more. While this information is crucial, cannabis companies are finding they need more packaging just to fit the required messages and warnings on their products.
While copious amounts of product information is good from a compliance standpoint, there is a huge disparity among the amount of verbiage required in cannabis compliance compared to other “vice” markets, such as the tobacco and alcohol industries. Of course both latter industries’ products contain warnings, but nothing to the extent required of the cannabis industry. For example, we said that chemical disclosures are standard for cannabis packaging compliance, whereas cigarettes, containing somewhere around 500 chemical additives, are not required to list them. The same goes for harvest information. Why is this the case? The fact is that the tobacco industry is able to exert their influence regarding these types of regulation, where cannabis isn’t, due to its novelty and the fact that there are not yet any of the cannabis powerhouses you see in other industries who can exert the same kind of lobbying power. As big tobacco starts to step into the cannabis space, it will be interesting to see how compliance issues and packaging requirements are affected in the next decade or so. The smart money says the regulations will ease up as these “new” cannabis companies are able to influence legislation.
Packaging waste isn’t all about compliance though. As competition increases, producers need to make their product stand out, and one way to achieve this is through elaborate packaging. Many non-cannabis marketers utilize the “unboxing experience” with their products, making it an event in itself – think about the push every time Apple drops a new product. Cannabis marketers see the value in offering this kind of experience to their customers, offering a repeatable experience whenever their customers buy their particular product. This experience comes at an environmental price though, with many cannabis products containing excessive packaging and inserts to make that happen. So not only is the packaging problem related to laws and compliance, but the right product aesthetic as well. The result is much more packaging than is necessary (sometimes as much as 20 times the total volume), packaging that costs producers money, cost the customer more money, and results in extra trash and our landfills (and roadsides and dispensary parking lots and public spaces, the list goes on). As if this weren’t enough on packaging, dispensaries themselves require “exit bags” when you remove product from their store. Often not good for recycling due to their mixed composition, they are not reused either and more often than not thrown out.
An obvious solution to the sheer amount of trash created through cannabis purchases would be to encourage reusing the containers for future purchases. However, this creates a new set of issues surrounding cross contamination, i.e. anything in the container is going to end up in the purchase whether we’re talking pesticide residue, or mold. There are a few cannabis producers taking back their containers and either sterilizing or repurposing them, but these producers are few and far between. However, even if we encouraged repurposing or reusing containers, many states have pre-packaging regulations that don’t allow for this. These standards come from the American Society for Testing and Materials as well as federal standard 16 CFR 1700 so many growers’ hands are tied even if they want to reuse containers.
While the problems related to waste and cannabis packaging seem insurmountable, some in the cannabis sphere are taking a proactive approach to waste by developing new packaging that is biodegradable, recyclable, and in some cases, even hemp based. Wouldn’t it be nice to see all that green waste made into something better for the customer and the planet? Anything else a little seems trashy.
Growers Network would like to thank Cameron and Green Belt Strategies for contributing this article. What did you think? Let us know in the survey below, or better yet, join our forum and start a conversation. Just click one of the “Join Now” buttons on this page. See you there!
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About the Author
Cameron Bravmann is the owner of Green Belt Strategies, Deep Roots host, and Growers Network University lecturer. He has been been lending his expertise to the cannabis industry for over twenty-five years. Visit him at Greenbeltstrategies.com