New World Packaging

5 Steps to Shift to Sustainable Packaging for Your Cannabis Products

The vast majority of cannabis packaging is single-use, which means it’s used once and discarded adding massive amounts of waste to the planet. Most cannabis brands aren’t using fully-recyclable and sustainable packaging yet, despite the fact that multiple states are already implementing laws related to sustainability in the cannabis industry. The writing is on the wall, and the time to shift to sustainable packaging for your cannabis products is now. 

The vast majority of cannabis packaging is single-use, which means it’s used once and discarded adding massive amounts of waste to the planet. Most cannabis brands aren’t using fully-recyclable and sustainable packaging yet, despite the fact that multiple states are already implementing laws related to sustainability in the cannabis industry. The writing is on the wall, and the time to shift to sustainable packaging for your cannabis products is now. 

If it’s part of your ethos, looking into sustainable packaging might be something you’re already doing, but there may be some ways to implement sustainable packaging that you’re missing out on. Even if you haven’t started your research yet, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s dive into this topic and see how you can easily and affordably shift to sustainable packaging.

What is Sustainable Packaging?

First, it’s important to understand what sustainable packaging actually is, because “sustainable” refers to a lot more than just recycling. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition defines sustainable packaging as follows:

  • Beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its life cycle
  • Meets market criteria for both performance and cost
  • Sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy
  • Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials
  • Manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices
  • Made from materials that are healthy throughout the life cycle
  • Physically designed to optimize materials and energy
  • Effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed loop cycles

In other words, sustainable packaging refers to materials, sourcing, transportation, recycling, recovery, and a lot more. 

5 Steps to Shift to Sustainable Packaging for Cannabis Products

Based on the above definition of sustainable packaging, let’s take a look at five key steps you need to take to shift from traditional packaging to sustainable packaging for your cannabis products.

1. Use Sustainable Materials

Sustainability starts with packaging that is made from sustainable materials. With that said, not all materials are equal. For example, you could choose to use recycled plastics for your packaging, which is great, but an even better choice is biodegradable packaging. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition defines biodegradable as the material’s ability to “break down, safely and relatively quickly, by biological means, into the raw materials of nature.” 

It’s important to talk to your packaging provider to learn about the types of materials and practices they offer that will enable you to offer a sustainably packaged product. For example, you could use paper that is FSC certified (by the Forest Stewardship Council) or recycled. Here are just some of the sustainable materials you might consider using in your cannabis packaging: 

  • FSC paper
  • Recycled paper board
  • Recycled plastics
  • Biodegradable plastics (e.g., cornstarch, cellulose, PLA, PHA)
  • Non-plastic inks (i.e., soy-based inks)

Ask questions, do your research, and make sure you’re working with a packaging provider who has access to sustainable materials at affordable prices and without delays.

2. Choose Sustainable Sources

Source refers to both the sources of the materials used in your packaging as well as the source you buy your packaging from. For example, sustainable practices for material sourcing include keeping your sources as localized as possible. 

Think of it this way – the amount of energy and resources required to transport packaging materials and finished packaging over long distances has the opposite effect on the environment than you want. Sustainability means your choice of sources should reduce greenhouse emissions, waste, energy use, and carbon footprints to the extent possible – not the opposite. 

Also, ask your manufacturer where and how their raw materials are sourced, and ask for documentation to prove materials are truly sustainable. Unfortunately, some providers and manufacturers may not be entirely truthful. Only work with vendors and partners who can back up their sustainability claims with proof.

3. Work with Manufacturers that Implement Sustainable Practices

The manufacturers you work with can implement a number of different strategies to make the entire production and transportation processes more sustainable, including: 

  • Reducing energy use
  • Reducing water use
  • Reducing emissions
  • Reducing water use

You should ask your packaging manufacturer to share their efforts to reduce their environmental impact and save energy overall. In addition, inquire about other manufacturing options and customization that could make your packaging and manufacturing processes more sustainable. 

For example, you can work with your provider to find ways to ship your products in smaller packages or reduce the amount of materials you use in your actual product package designs. The more excess packaging materials you can remove, the better.

4. Educate Consumers about End User Recycling

For a truly closed-loop system of sustainability, end user consumers must know how to recycle their cannabis packaging. In general, packaging made from glass or a material with a low recycling number is best, because those materials are highly recyclable. Therefore, not only should you try to use highly recyclable packaging in your products, but you should also educate consumers about how they can recycle cannabis product packaging.

Some states have laws that allow cannabis retailers to take back used cannabis packaging from consumers. Colorado and New York are two examples of states that are prioritizing sustainability in the cannabis industry. Colorado’s rules relate to a consumer packaging take-back program, while rules for New York’s adult-use cannabis program include a section devoted to sustainability and a consumer packaging take-back program. Section 128.4 Retail Packaging Sustainability Program reads as follow:

 (a) A licensee shall submit an environmental sustainability program for cannabis product packaging as part of the application process, if applicable for the license type. Such programs may include but are not limited to reuse strategies collecting reusable cannabis packaging components to be sanitized and refilled or reused as cannabis packaging, or sustainable packaging strategies that use non-plastic, compostable or recyclable materials, or packaging materials exceeding 25% post-consumer recycled content. Within two years of issuance of the license, the licensee shall submit to the Board or Office a revised environmental sustainability product packaging plan. 

(b) Retail packages can be reused after appropriate sanitation and based on visual inspection, if the retail package is in good working order and does not appear to pose a risk of unintended exposure or ingestion of cannabis products. The visual inspection must ensure such retail packages are not brittle or have chips, cracks, or other imperfections that could compromise the child-resistant properties of the retail package or otherwise pose a threat of harm to a consumer. 

(1) The retail packages shall be sanitized and disinfected either by a licensee or by a third party to ensure that they do not contain any harmful residue or contaminants. 

(c) Claims about recyclable or recycled content packaging shall comply with 16 CFR Part 260 regarding Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims. 

(d) A licensee who packages products for retail sale shall annually report to the Office key metrics including but not limited to the total amount of packaging material, by weight, sold, 10 offered for sale, or distributed into the state by the licensee in the prior calendar year; and the total costs of packaging material.

Don’t be surprised to see more and more states implement similar laws in the future, which means cannabis brands and manufacturers need to be ready.

5. Prioritize Innovation

Packaging innovation doesn’t just apply to finding new sustainable materials or manufacturing practices. It also applies to creating innovative designs that add greater purpose to single-use cannabis packaging. 

For example, an idea that stands out to the team at New World Packaging is being able to give a cannabis product package another life after its initial use. For example, you could perforate the paper on a box in the size of joint filters, or you could design a box that opens in a way that it can also be used as a rolling tray.

There are endless ways to be creative with packaging, and in doing so, not only will you differentiate your brand, but you may discover more sustainable options!

Key Takeaways about Sustainable Packaging for Cannabis Products

The cannabis industry has been targeted as a source for waste and negative impacts on the environment for years. For cannabis brands and manufacturers, shifting to sustainable packaging for some or all of your products can be a great differentiator today, but it will likely become a requirement in the future. Now is the time to make the switch and stand out in your market!

Ready to get started? The team at New World Packaging has the experience, knowledge, and sources to help you bring sustainable packaging to your cannabis products. Contact us and let’s talk!

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