The Growing Plastic Problem in the Cannabis Industry

The fact that cannabis is a plant, adds to its great selling points and towards legalization. However, cannabis which is smokable has a minimal association with its actual agricultural state. Its buds (cured and dried) are plucked directly from the plant. However, for individuals seeking relief from a number of symptoms, or for customers looking for relaxation, natural remedies like cannabis are truly hard to find. Due to multiple factors, the growing plastic problem in the cannabis industry is concerning. With the rise of legalization for cannabis, there was also an introduction of an increase in environmental cost such as

  • Disposable methods of consumption
  • Packaging adhering to the laws
  • Farming practices

All of the above have given rise to waste with no good ways for the industry to handle. Let’s try to understand what we have here and how would we step towards an eco-friendly future for the cannabis industry.

Plastic use

With the tight regulations of the cannabis industry, the consumers are dependant on the legal cannabis market. They are only going to receive whatever their local dispensary will decide to sell. However, a lot of consumers are looking for other practices that are sustainable, which is adding to their demands from the companies.

Curaleaf‘s Director of purchasing, Jed McWhorter, explained that with the increasing awareness of climate change globally, people are understanding their choices and are learning to deal with their excess waste. Reduction in the usage of single-use plastic would be a significant step, as many states have packaging requirements that lead to the use of single-use plastics in the cannabis industry.

McWhorter referred to the add-ons to the packaging, that is designed to keep children out of reach of these cannabis products. Additionally, these extra packaging restrictions aren’t applicable to other legal intoxicants, which can include alcohol, etc. Referring to the California regulations, the law authorized adult-use cannabis in California. However, there was a difference in the packaging requirements for formally “manufactured” cannabis products (topicals, edibles, and concentrates), and smokable cannabis (pre-rolled joints or flower).

Packaging requirements

Moreover, the state gives a packaging list that has the following requirements for a cannabis package –

  • Child-safety – The plastic packaging of the cannabis product is required to be no less than 4 millimeters thick, and must also be heat-sealed while adhering to the Federal Poison Prevention Packaging Act.
  • Opacity (only for edibles) – This requirement focuses on the use of amber-colored glass only, creating a preference for single-use plastics.
  • Tamper-evident – This focuses on requirements such as plastic seals. which is typically a sticker adhered to the sides of the lid, which is ripped when the jars are opened. Typically, tamper-evident seals that can clearly tell if the product had been opened before or not.
  • Resealable – Multi-purpose products are required to come in packaging with any sort of closure, whether an adhesive seal or a lid.

To top it all off, these are the requirements for California ONLY.

The 2 cannabis companies that are trying to combat these issues

Despite the need for the packaging to be single-use, there is no such law requiring the use of virgin plastic. This further provides the cannabis companies with the opportunity to look for alternatives, keeping factors like high material costs, in mind.

Ocean Cannabis Co.

The co-owners of Ocean Cannabis Co., Mary Ersig and her partner, started their company in 2013. However, only after legalization, and attending the MJBizCon in Las Vegas, Nevada, did they really understand the rapidly increasing environmental problem in the cannabis industry.

According to Ersig, there was a lot of plastic, with multiple layers in the packaging. Hence, they began using a paper cube instead, to turn towards something that consumers can simply dispose of in the recycling bin, as it is biodegradable. However, it didn’t take long for them to actually find the packaging source that they use currently – ocean plastic.

Currently, recycled plastic which is typically harvested from the ocean, owing to Oceanworks, is the main packaging source of Ocean Cannabis Co. The cannabis company uses plastic to turn it into pellets. They then, further transforming them into cubes which are then considered s their packaging. Ersig explains that they have utilized about 6 tons of plastic, found in the ocean. According to the estimates, Ocean Cannabis Co.s each product is the approximate equivalent of 15 straws’ value of plastic. However, it does not come for free.

Each Oceanworks plastic container costs 27 cents, while China’s boilerplate plastic packaging costs mere pennies per piece. Ersig discusses how this is the major reason why ocean-recovered plastic isn’t a widely used option in the cannabis industry.


Curaleaf, one of the biggest companies in the cannabis industry, also decided to explore other sustainable packaging options. However, it proved to be a tricky process. Additionally, Curaleaf possesses multiple product lines and operates in many states, which all require the company to adhere to their different requirements for packaging.

McWhorter explains how their cross-functional team ensures the packaging requirements in each state with 3 review sessions before they are printed. Furthermore, they use glass, recycled plastics, and paper, wherever they can.

Curaleaf explains, that while taking care of posts, it is planning to declare a partner in the coming year, 2021. This will aid the company in understanding its environmental footprint and will further discuss options that will lessen the footprint. They will focus on social equity and sustainable perspectives.

How can conscious consumers help?

Consumers can educate themselves. and shop smartly. However, there are further, although limited currently, options that can help decrease the carbon footprint-

Alternative materials

Here are a few things to look out for in the packaging, the next time you shop for cannabis products –

  • Hemp plastics, like the plastics produced by Sana Packaging
  • Recycled plastic
  • Paper
  • Glass ( even better if it is reusable for other purposes)

Focus on companies trying to help

If possible, try to make a priority to purchase from companies such as Ocean Cannabis Co.

This would greatly help, as these companies have already sacrificed multiple costs, only to be able to offer a sustainable cannabis product.

Raise your voice

Understanding sustainability is necessary for bigger companies such as Curaleaf. Understanding the issue of sustainable packaging, companies are more likely to try to turn them into successful business models. The same is applicable to dispensaries. The demand for such companies and their products will only further ensure the availability of them.

The cannabis industry is far from solving the plastic problem entirely. However, an increasing number of companies are trying to explore options and think about sustainable solutions. So, the next time you go cannabis shopping, try to look for more eco-minded cannabis brands in your locality. Even if you come back empty-handed, make sure that you’re local dispensary is aware that you and your money are looking for better options.

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