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Gone are the days of flimsy plastic baggies being sold to hold weed and small squares of tin foil used to package hash. With medical and recreational cannabis being legalized for use in countries and states around the world, this plant is being sold in a variety of mostly plastic packaging.
An eight (3.5 grams) of flower can be handed to you at the dispensary in what seems like an awfully large and bulky plastic container. Joints can come wrapped in layers of plastic or tubes of cardboard. Disposable vapes are sold that are made of what seems like a wide variety of plastic and metal parts. These are difficult to recycle in most municipalities’ normal waste programs, so likely are completely tossed after a few weeks of use.
There are a number of legal requirements, depending on the country, on how the packaging is opened and branded, with adequate space for labelling content and warnings. Marijuana products also have to be kept dry and contained to prevent contamination. Clunky child-resistant packaging features can make it difficult, if not impossible, to get to the item. And that’s for able-bodied adults with full use of their hands.
It’s clear that with the legalization of cannabis, the packaging used to sell the plant increases, which has environmental implications and can put pressure on local recycling programs and carbon outputs.
Implementation of cannabis packaging recycling and buyback programs
Some dispensaries are now offering recycling and even buyback programs to combat cannabis packaging waste. Just having the option of a box in-store to recycle old products while picking up new stuff takes away a lot of the headache to do with finding a responsible way to deal with all the packaging.
Cannabis purchasers may dump all their old cannabis product packaging in their home recycling bin. But this adds cost, time and labour for the facility to re-sort the products. Those that can’t be recycled through the municipal program go directly into the landfill.
Buyback programs give an extra incentive to customers to return their packaging. An independently owned cannabis store in Canada has started giving store credits to customers for their empty packages. The store is offering a ten-cent (Canadian) store credit for glass jars and bottles and five cents for plastic and cardboard containers and packaging. Though vape cartridges and batteries are not part of the program.
Small fees for plastic bags, such as a five-cent surcharge, have proved effective in encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags. A store credit for cannabis products hopefully would have a similar effect in encouraging recycling.
Regulating for current and future cannabis recycling needs
Cannabis waste regulation and recycling programs have to be lobbied for after legalization. As New York prepares to open its first dispensary, lawmakers are being urged to add bill language that would regulate cannabis waste.
A model bill is being proposed in New York to set up recycling programs for both current and future cannabis products. This is key as new products, like vape pens, are often coming to market without recycling solutions in place. The bill would also encourage bioplastic packaging — these containers are made fully or partly from plant materials, like corn or sugarcane. Bioplastics can often be recycled but are not always fully compostable.
Dealing with cannabis packaging
Buyback programs may go an extra step to encouraging the recycling of cannabis packaging. Though mandated recycling programs are necessary to ensure fewer containers go to landfills. The material of the packaging also has to be looked at to ensure there is a high potential for it to be recycled, reused, or composted.