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Cannabis Packaging: How Regulations Make Sustainability a Challenge

Possibly one of the fastest growing trends in the cannabis industry is the demand for quality and compliant packaging. If you were at the most recent MJBizCon in Las Vegas, you probably had a hard time not noticing the slew of booths catering to consumer-facing companies and their various packaging needs. It is a hot topic for good reason: direct branding has become a key part of serious strategy, ad restrictions persist nationwide, demand continues to grow steadily, and companies are trying to remain compliant over multiple borders.

cannabis packagingWith everyone competing to stay more clever and innovative than their competitors, we are seeing an emergence of sustainable cannabis packaging initiatives throughout the industry. More and more companies are beginning to focus efforts on reducing their impact on landfills, oceans, and parks. A large portion of cannabis consumers are progressive millennials who are dedicated to changing the way we use our limited resources. They want their cannabis products to reflect that lifestyle.

Going green has become a planned business strategy to attract this rising demographic. For some, the cost of transitioning their cannabis packaging to sustainable canisters and boxes invites new patrons who are willing to spend more money promoting a healthy planet. Reaching them is difficult, though. With persistent ad restrictions on television, radio, and print, it can be tough to pinpoint marketing to specific groups. One effective method is through the containers and boxes that consumers use daily. Gone are the days of Ziploc bags and old film containers. You need only visit your local dispensary to witness the glamor of cannabis packaging that lines every shelf in the current market.

Packaging says a lot about the brand it represents. It offers an opportunity to connect with consumers on a personal level and strengthen loyalty. In this burgeoning industry, there are little to no long-established, dominant brands. That leaves a lot of market share open for companies hungry to command a lead.

Some of these companies are turning toward alternatives to traditional and non-recyclable materials as a way to stand out. They’ve traded in their heavy plastics for eco-friendly counterparts such as bioplastics, recycled cardboard, and glass. With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, we may see a rise in the availability of biodegradable materials that help to break the demand for wasteful plastics.

Related: Why Tobacco Farmers and Corporations Are Moving to Hemp

Hemp is a major resource when it comes to creating cannabis packaging alternatives, as it has a rapid growth rate, high cellulose, and requires little water. After legislation changed, Hemp Business Journal doubled their 2022 prediction of bioplastic sales to $27 million, and that’s no coincidence. These fresh options are invited with open arms into an industry that was founded by grassroots activists and wholesome hippies set on utilizing these benefits.

To say that the industry can be wasteful is an understatement. Nutrients, energy, water, chemicals, and packaging materials all contribute to a heavy burden. Some of the issues can be tied directly to state laws. Regulations on cannabis packaging and marketing can be extremely strict. Historically, the focus has been centered around excessive labeling, avoidance of product contamination, and keeping children safe. It offers a degree of transparency, accountability, and protection, but gives little attention to what happens after the product is sold or where it ends up.

Most of the time, it becomes non-biodegradable waste. In some states, the laws have created a Russian doll effect. For instance, Washington requires each product be packaged and labeled individually – meaning a pound of joints could require over 1,000 “doob tubes.” Joints inside of doob tubes; tubes inside of boxes; boxes inside of exit bags. It’s a lot of wasted material and a stark reminder of the need for more sustainable packaging options. Fortunately, with positive legislation and the growth of environmentally friendly alternatives, the cannabis industry may be able to right its trajectory toward a more progressive and sustainable future.


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