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Making Cannabis Even Greener Through Sustainable Packaging

by Ryan Szporer

 

While the legalization of cannabis in Canada and parts of the United States is seen as incredibly forward-thinking, the movement has a long way forward still to go… at the very least in terms of packaging.

 

The Great Cannabis Packaging Dilemma

It’s ironic, as cannabis and hemp (which derives from the same plant) are often marketed as being environmentally conscious alternatives. Nevertheless, cannabis packaging has been far from perfected with regard to sustainability.

Even when it’s recyclable, as it technically is in Canada, many roadblocks stand in the way due to different municipal standards. Provincial indifference or even disdain for recycling plans, where a simple deposit similar to on a beer bottle can make a huge difference, help no one instead.

Granted, that’s not all on manufacturers. A great deal of the problems revolves around the marketing component, in Canada at least. The government is seen as trying to strike a balance between collecting as much revenue as possible and limiting its accessibility and appeal to kids. The resulting regulations have effectively paved the way for a plain packaging dilemma.

The problems go beyond simple aesthetics, though. Take the situation in the province of Quebec, where, depending on the volume of the product, the packaging may be far from filled to the brim to be kind. There have also been instances of excessive cardboard packaging doing what can only be described as a passable impression of Russian nesting dolls: A seemingly useless external layer does little else but house the container that actually holds the cannabis.

The worst part is the degree to which the packaging is going to waste. As much as 70 grams of packaging per gram of product (70 times!) were estimated as being used. Compared to the plastic bags, which admittedly pose their own problems to the ecosystem, with which many consumers may be used to dealing, the difference is eye-opening.

 

Solutions South of the Border

Of course, with the widespread legalization, regulations have hampered individual companies’ sustainability efforts. Saying nothing of such environment-unfriendly laws as Washington State’s requirement to wrap individual servings (in child-resistant packaging no less), the sheer amount of text required on each label is not just creatively stifling, but environmentally as well.

Barcodes could be the answer. Specifically leveraging two-dimensional symbologies, which can hold upwards of 4,000 text characters, would open up space on packaging, even limiting the need for so much in the first place. Combined with Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), QR codes could represent the future when it comes to successfully interacting with customers.

With regard to the packaging itself, even though extra resources must be devoted to manufacturing child-resistant or tamper-proof seals, it doesn’t actually have to adversely impact the environment. For example, there are child-resistant “exit” bags available right now made from sustainably and renewably farmed non-GMO sugarcane from HISIERRA in the States that are being hailed as “some of the greenest… and most legally compliant” on the market.

Meanwhile, CRATIV makes child-resistant storage boxes that can be recycled or repurposed, helping to dispel the notion cannabis packaging has to be single-use. It doesn’t. It further proves regulations aren’t necessarily constricting. They can be used as motivation to think outside the box (or bag, in this case) and drive innovation.

 

Smoking the Competition

Granted, with the nationwide legalization of cannabis in Canada, regulations placed on packaging are going to be especially strict. However, there seems to be a game of hot potato in play right now, with federal-body Health Canada saying they set the rules, but that the individual provinces are the ones that determine how to comply with them.

From their perspective, manufacturers don’t need to look far for inspiration. And that’s not just a reference to the product itself… but what’s already been done successfully in the past. Canada may be miles (kilometers) ahead of the States in terms of legislation to legalize Cannabis, but there’s definitely something everyone involved in the discussion can learn from the development of packaging south of the border.

The realistic hope is that, as the market matures, cooler heads prevail regarding what’s best for the public. It certainly can’t be unnecessary waste clogging up the ecosystem. In the meantime, it may be up to individual companies to take the bull by the horns, ride it, navigating through all the laws, and find a way to innovatively find a competitive advantage in a market aimed at a demographic that’s traditionally been especially environmentally conscious.

If capitalism has taught us anything it’s that, where there’s a will to win market share, there’s a way. Hopefully, it doesn’t take too long getting there.


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