Waste is choking the cannabis industry. Its waste disposal problem is huge. From ghastly solvents to leftover plant matter, it all requires extra measures for destruction, extra packaging every step of the way. This creates massive quantities of waste. Tons of it. It is honestly shocking just how much packaging goes into selling a few legal buds. Experts claim 100 grams or so for every gram of weed.
Too Much Plastic
Many argue that the issue of waste overabundance has its roots in cannabis prohibition. Many claim that past criminalization of weed now manifests as extreme and unnecessary overregulation. In turn, this overreach generates an excessive quantity of extra waste. Single-use packaging is the most obvious. You see it everywhere, on any sidewalk near any pot store. Even weed delivery arrives in plastic.
Tamper-proof bags, small plastic tubes, and plastic over plastic. The goal of all this plastic is for regulatory authorities to supervise plant sales more stringently. However, it is responsible for frankly unacceptable levels of excessive garbage. Even one pre-rolled joint requires its own plastic container. You need to cover one gram of weed with more plastic than the bud itself weighs.
States that allow sales require every product to carry visible labeling too. This includes cannabinoid profiles, identification numbers, health warnings, test results, and even soil and other cultivation inputs. Packages end up notably bigger than the actual product, certainly unnecessary. Most go straight to landfills, where it further exacerbates an already constrained public waste system.
According to the Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal, “The biggest problem with packaging and labeling are the numerous regulations that result in extra packaging being used to fit everything on the product.” It is simply wasteful and the cause of a serious industry-wide problem that requires immediate resolution, preferably with less packaging.
The Issue of Vaporizers
As creative folks devise new ways to consume cannabis, the law requires new ways to package and dispose of its waste. Vaping cartridges are the perfect example of this. Ten years ago, nobody foresaw them ever becoming an issue, but now, they are causing all manner of challenges for advocates of sustainability. They are especially difficult to dispose of, and folks buy them in droves.
California, as well as other weed-friendly states, prohibits recycling plants from recycling waste from the cannabis industry. This, despite nearly 30 million plastic vaping cartridges sold in California during 2019. Worse, regulations in California made certain initiatives impossible, unfeasible, such as programs for customers to return used cartridges. Nobody knows what to do with these. They too end up in landfills.
Despite it being among the safest therapeutic substances in human history, safer than most of our food, cannabis is a victim of unfair treatment. Regulators insist everyone treats it like a deadly poison, as if it were radioactive waste. As such, it requires handling and disposal in a certain way. Just like too much packaging, excessive labeling and a ban on its recycling, cannabis biomass is also tricky to dispose of.
This is not for anybody’s safety, not because it is a dangerous, inorganic substance, but simply because regulations do not permit mixing weed waste with any other waste. Instead, companies are finding innovative ways to dispose of all this waste, from pulverizing plant remains to complying with regulations requiring officials be present at its burning.
Hemp to the Rescue
Several companies are trying to resolve the waste problem posed by the cannabis industry. Some are developing hemp-derived ways of addressing these issues so blatantly ignored or exacerbated by state regulations. There are business opportunities here, for those with insight. A few startups already identified this as an unmissable green opportunity.
Some brands are focusing solely on creating sustainable packaging solutions for cannabis delivery and all related products. Some are using a closed-loop business model that creates zero waste using reclaimed ocean plastic, hemp, and other non-petroleum-based materials. All packaging used recycles for use again, in the case of non-biodegradable plastics, or discards in a manner that lessens pollution.
Currently, cannabis farmers and manufacturers use regenerative agricultural practices wherever possible. However, to do this properly, they must consider packaging an extension of this. Called a Circular Economy, this model keeps materials in continual use, ultimately keeping pollution out of the economy and regenerating natural systems.
Yet other startups are designing packaging solutions made entirely of compostable materials, hemp being a major one of them. What is more, the serious ones are using water-based coatings in their printing processes, even soy- and other organic material-based inks. Many are sourcing materials locally too, further adding to this clean economic ideal.
Hemp packaging might lead the solution. It is sustainable. It also provides options for waste strategies, including recycling and upcycling. The primary goal is, according to Ganjapreneur, “to find viable solutions for the single-use oil-based plastic that the industry currently has while we integrate bioplastics. The trick is finding a way for single-use plastic to never reach oceans or landfills at all.”
Hemp Hurd and Mushroom Mycelium
Yet other companies are getting indescribably creative. One, Paradise Packaging in California, makes an interesting, unique composite made from hemp and mushroom mycelium. It is ideal for molding and shaping packaging material. It has other uses too, applicable to wide array of merchandise, not cannabis exclusively. It is completely bio-based, totally compostable, as well as resistant to fire and water.
This hemp and mycelium combination is durable enough to make shipping containers too. It can safely transport marijuana tinctures, oils, and other bottled products. What is more, it makes the perfect biodegradable clone planters and seed starters. The material is already in huge demand and capable of protecting cannabis products, meeting regulations, and solving seemingly insurmountable waste issues.
While waste piles, industry carries on. Anyone can order cannabis delivery in California, if of legal age. You can search Google for “weed delivery near me” to find those closest to you, but expect plastic to overwhelm your order. With a hemp solution possible in the near future, environmental enthusiasts and sustainability advocates can consider the battle won. There simply is no excuse for so much garbage.