Cannabis comes in all shapes, sizes, textures, colors, flavors, aromas, consistencies and potencies. Surely, no plant that we consume today can contend with the sheer variety of strains/cultivars that exist today in the world of cannabis? Cannabis’ genetic diversity and plethora of unique effects & characteristics are one of its major draws, and it truly stands out among the world of nutrition, medicine and recreation.
Cannabis might come in all sorts of different forms, but you know what doesn’t have enough variety? Cannabis packaging. There is some decent recreational cannabis packaging, and some medical packaging includes seals, child-locks or convenient access features. However, when it comes to reusable cannabis packaging the industry is sorely lacking in its “green initiatives”.
Don’t get the wrong idea - it is easy to recycle most cannabis packaging in your household recycling bins. The issues with most recreational cannabis packaging has to do with how much of it there is per product, or the fact that much of cannabis packaging is not reusable.
For these reasons, we’ve put together a guide of sorts on how to recycle cannabis packaging, what kinds of recreational cannabis packaging are the best/worst for recycling, and any steps you can take to increase reusability of the cannabis products you frequently buy.
Despite being an industry that’s all about the ‘green’ - growing plants, making money - the cannabis sector has largely dropped the ball in terms of its recycling efforts. Whether we’re talking about containers within containers within containers, or the fact that almost all cannabis packaging today is completely plastic, there isn’t much good to say about cannabis’ contributions to pollution.
It’s important to recycle as many plastics, paper-based packages, glass and metal whenever we can because the world’s human population is only continuing to go up. With over 7 billion people and the number consistently rising year-over-year, the vast number of single-use product packages or double-packaged goods keeps increasing as well. The more we grow and consume, the more plastics we leave behind in our wakes.
For context, think of how many food or beverage products you consume in a week… almost every single one of those snacks, drinks or meals comes boxed, jarred, bottled, bagged and wrapped. The majority of packaging is plastic, with some metal and very little reusable glassware in comparison. This is typically due to costs of packaging, durability issues, the need for weather-resistant exterior packaging. On top of this, many manufacturers produce the goods we consume all over the world, so their travel spans many countries, time zones and different kinds of weather. These factors have necessitated many companies to favor cheap, single-use and marginally recyclable plastic packaging instead of focusing on reusable ones.
Cannabis is certainly having a profoundly positive impact in most peoples’ lives, so there’s no taking away from the fact that weed is working wonders. Nevertheless, something that recreational and medical products need to change as soon as possible is their lack of reusable cannabis packaging while cutting down on the amount of packaging per product. Let’s analyze each of these points separately. For starters, the kinds of cannabis packaging predominately used today aren’t meant to be reused. This can create problems for packaging companies as these kinds of ‘single-use’ containers, bottles, boxes and wraps are simply torn up and thrown away more often than not.
Most containers and cannabis packaging types aren’t meant to be reused at all, due to the medical nature of many cannabis products and the risks associated with bacterial contamination. Cannabinoids contamination is also a worry for some cannabis producers because one product to another will have vastly different THC, CBD and terpenes contents. If you’re not concerned about ‘THC contamination’ - as this is often referred to - and you understand the risks of some residual Tetrahydrocannabinol being transferred from one set of buds to another, then you can certainly reuse some cannabis packaging.
Another consideration is the potential for chemical residues to be present in cannabis flowers, edibles or concentrates. Cannabis plants are grown in various ways, some of which include the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. All cannabis products are thoroughly tested for these kinds of residual chemicals. The chances that some trace amounts of chemicals could be left over in these containers has led some producers to tell their customers to “not reuse cannabis packaging” once the product has been consumed.
On another note, the number of packages used to contain, ship and deliver one small amount of cannabis when compared to other kinds of products is head-scratching to say the least. Have you ever ordered a single pre-roll joint online, only to have it arrive as a bubble-wrap bag, within a box that holds a plastic pre-roll tube, and the joint is further plastic wrapped to ‘maintain freshness’?! This isn’t uncommon for many cannabis products today, regardless of quantity or quality of product.
This over-packaging problem wasn’t an issue in the past, but today it certainly raises some eyebrows. Maintaining product quality is very important - don’t get us wrong. However, some overzealous cannabis companies seem to have forgotten the importance of reducing non-reusable plastics in their pursuit of product quality. Cannabis is a hearty product that once dried/cured or processed can stay potent, fresh and flavorful for long periods of time. Simply investing in a single sealable metal, glass or recyclable plastic tin or bottle can eliminate the need for all these other packages.
Cannabis products come in a large variety of types, some of which have reusable packaging and some that are more likely to be opened and put in the trash or recycled. To put it in perspective just how much of cannabis packaging is wasteful, here are lists of types of products that have reusable cannabis packaging (RE) types versus non-reusable (NR) types:
Glass jars (RE)
Plastic, resealable bottles (RE)
Plastic jars (NR)
Resealable ziplock bags (NR)
Paper-based pre-roll tubes (NR)
Plastic pre-roll tubes (RE)
Paper-based boxes (NR)
Glass vials w/ dropper (RE)
Plastic vials w/out dropper (NR)
Oil/liquid syringe (NR)
Metal beverage cans (NR)
Plastic beverage bottles (NR)
Paper-based bags (NR)
Metal tins (RE)
As you can see, most of the cannabis packaging used today is not meant to be reused or repurposed. You could say that every one of these examples of cannabis packaging types are recyclable, so they can be rendered back into reusable materials if they’re disposed of in the proper bins at home/work. Many of these recreational cannabis packaging items like wraps, seals, and single-use plastics aren’t as easy to repurpose as cardboard or resealable bags. Nevertheless, it falls to us stoners to do our part and recycle everything you can - force the issue by putting everything you can in the blue bins.
Speaking of learning how to recycle cannabis packaging…
It’s not hard to recycle recreational cannabis packaging, no matter how many bottles, bags, wraps or boxes it comes in. The real trick to reducing your impact on the plastic pollution inherent in the cannabis industry has to do with reusing packaging. Here are a few simple rules/steps to follow in order to ensure you’re one of the forward-thinking people who knows how to recycle cannabis packaging:
1. Recycle every piece of cannabis packaging that doesn’t actually house/contain the product you ordered (i.e. boxes, wraps, bags, etc). Cleaning or sanitizing these recyclable packages also goes a long way towards helping them make it to the preferred destination of a recycling depot.
2. After you’re done with a container, wash it in your dishwasher and let it dry. Once it has been cleaned/sanitized, try to find a new purpose for it: Storing kief? Bud storage? Can it hold rollies? How about keeping gum for after a smoke in it?
3. Try to buy products that have more sustainable, reusable packaging than others - Hemp-plastic packaging? Yes please. Glassware or metal packaging? A must. Single-use plastics? No thanks.
4. If you can, buy multiples of cannabis products you like to cut down on their travel/delivery impact. You’ll not only have more buds to enjoy this way, but you can take them out of their packaging and combine in a glass jar or something more reusable. Don’t forget to recycle all of the old packaging.
5. If your cannabis store will allow it, bring your own glass, metal or reusable plastic containers to the counter and fill to your heart’s content. Any chance you get to avoid another container that is just destined for the recycling depot - or worse, the landfill - do your best to be part of the solution with your own reusable packaging.
Follow these simple steps, be creative, be proactive and be cognizant of your impact on the world around you. Recycling isn’t hard, it’s a simple mindset that focuses on doing a bit more than is required in order to reap greater rewards not only for yourself, but for others in the future. Cannabis folk are the nicest, most thoughtful and caring in the world so it only makes sense that we’re all recycling champs too. Enjoy your buds with your buds and make sure you’re all doing your part and recycling cannabis packaging every chance you get.