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Could Container Deposit Solve Waste Woes?

It’s no secret that the cannabis industry has a massive carbon footprint. Between the water, soil, and energy consumed growing indoors, the use of environmentally damaging additives like palm oil, and greenhouse gas emissions from trucking the product all over the country, the industry has a long way to go before it can be truly “green”.

One of the major issues brought up by consumers is the abundance of packaging.

When cannabis products first started hitting the shelves in 2018, customers were aghast at how large and cumbersome packaging was compared to the quantity of product. Containers holding 3.5 grams of cannabis appeared to be three-quarters empty, leaving consumers wondering not only why containers had to be so big, but also wondering what to do with them once they were empty. After all, most flower is sold in 3.5-gram or 7-gram formats, leaving the customer with five to eight empty containers if they choose to buy in bulk.

This complaint is not lost on the industry, though, and luckily there is a solution, but it may take a little bit of effort.

In 2017, Canopy Growth launched its Tweed x Terracycle program, which accepts all cannabis packaging, not just from Canopy Growth brands. There is a recycling receptacle at the door of around 200 Tweed, Tokyo Smoke, and third-party retailers, and so far the program has saved over 6 million pieces from ending up in landfills. Consumers can even return their packaging through the mail if they aren’t close to a drop-off location.

It’s not enough, though. The Alberta Bottle Depot Association (ABDA) thinks the best way to solve this problem is to add a deposit to cannabis packaging.

Typically, beverages in approved containers like glass, plastic, and aluminum are sold with a $0.05 or $0.10 deposit that the consumer gets back once they bring the containers to the depot. It provides an incentive for consumers to recycle, and according to the Beverage Container Management Board (BCMB), which regulates the beverage container recycling industry in Alberta, around 82% of Albertans already use this service.

But why does there need to be a deposit? Surely Canadians can simply toss the plastic or cardboard packaging into their recycling bin and be done with it? Not so fast. Most recycling facilities do not take mixed-format packaging—AKA containers that are made of more than one material.

That’s where the deposit comes in, and the effort. If Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) and the ABDA decided to put a deposit on cannabis containers, then licensed producers would be legally required to create packaging that adhered to the approved materials, which are glass, plastic, or aluminum.

“A large benefit of our current system is the regulatory control around product registration, in that containers can only be registered if they are recyclable, and the resulting large quantity of sorted and highly recyclable material collected by depots and the CSA, equal to over two billion containers a year,” says Blaire Charlton-Gaalaas, President of the BCMB. “Manufacturers, such as those manufacturing cannabis containers, would need to develop an effective stewardship plan and could not assume that those containers can be mixed with our current beverage container material streams, as mixing them may jeopardize the high-quality material that the system is able to ensure gets recycled.”

According to AGLC spokesperson Heather Holman, the AGLC is in ongoing talks with regulators and LPs to address the issue, but nothing has been ironed out yet.

Unless you’d like to spend the time peeling the labels off of your cannabis containers, a deposit on packaging could be just the thing to address the heaps of plastic accumulating around the industry.