When legalization came into fruition, Canadians soon realized that the cannabis industry was far from green. The cause—excessive packaging.
Canada has some of the strictest packaging regulations in the world. The Federal Cannabis Act mandates packaging to be opaque, child-resistant, tamper-evident, waterproof, and contaminate proof. Add Health Canada’s requirements for health warnings, a standardized cannabis symbol, and specific product information and you now have a lot of packaging accompanying even small amounts of cannabis.
The Price of Packaging
Public outcry for more sustainable solutions followed, and retailers were just as concerned. However, there were hurdles to overcome. Efforts by licensed producers (LPs) to meet regulations have led to the use of several diverse materials, which made recycling through conventional means difficult. Refilling containers was also not an option due to packaging requirements.
Cameron Brown, communications officer for The Hunny Pot Cannabis, in Toronto, shares retailers’ frustration. “When we entered the industry, sustainability was top of mind for our team. We opened on April 1, 2019, and from the beginning, we wanted to recycle our packaging properly as well as work on other initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint.”
The store receives on average 250 to 500 shipping boxes per week. Brown says their first step was to ensure staff members were separating products properly. Then they needed a program to dispose of the actual containers.
Thankfully, Canopy Growth had recognized the problem early on and partnered with TerraCycle, a global leader specializing in hard-to-recycle materials. Their stores Tweed and Tokyo Smoke accept any packaging purchased from licensed retailers, including outer and inner packaging, tins, joint tubes, plastic bottles, caps, and flexible plastic bags. This recycling solution is also available to other retailers.
“The program is Canada’s first and largest cannabis packaging recycling program,” states Alex Payne, public relations for TerraCycle North America. “Since its launch in October 2018, the program has signed up 412 cannabis retailers across the country and collected 2,372,634 units of packaging or 47,000 lbs. as of November 2019. These numbers continue to grow as new retailers get involved every month.”
As of November 2019, we have shipped 25,000 containers to TerraCycle.
“The Hunny Pot reached out to Canopy Growth and TerraCycle to become a part of their program. As of November 2019, we have shipped 25,000 containers to TerraCycle. Our customers are making a real effort to bring the packaging back.” Brown adds that is thanks in part to their one-on-one service that provides education for the consumer.
Jason Richeson, store manager for Garden Variety in Manitoba, shares how their popular recycling program, done in partnership with LP, Zenabis, is a little different. “We wanted to stand apart and increase customer incentive. Therefore, we offer clients a 50-cent credit per returned container. Customers can bring in up to 10 items ($5.00 credit) to be redeemed off their purchase daily.”
LPs Standing Out with Sustainable Products
Co-founder and Executive Director of Freedom Cannabis, Troy Dezwart, states that they are one of the few federally licensed growers committed to not using plastic containers for the recreational market. The privately-owned producer located in Acheson, Alberta, will be the first in Canada to use Nitrotins, which are fully recyclable.
As part of the packaging process, a drop of liquid nitrogen is used to purge air from the Nitrotin. This process has the added benefit of increasing the product’s shelf life and maintaining quality. Freedom Cannabis products began distribution in late 2019, early 2020 and retailers are excited about the new packaging.
Industry Tight-lipped Regarding Vape Products
As the marketplace prepares for the introduction of cannabis vape pens and cartridges, a whole new set of recycling woes await. Vape products are more complex to recycle as they contain several different materials, batteries, and electronics in small quantities that need to be separated. A viable recycling program will require scale and time to develop.
Most producers and retailers are without a solid recycling plan. Dezwart says Freedom Cannabis is still working on finding high-quality vape products with recyclable parts.
The Hunny Pot shares that they are in open discussions with LPs regarding their plans for new products and how to recycle them. “We will continue to keep on our producers to ensure we have a solution,” adds Brown.
“We are not even sure if there will be an opportunity to recycle them yet,” says Richeson. “Garden Variety’s management company, Native Roots in Colorado, is experiencing this now. It’s a real concern because the sector blew up for them, overtaking flower sales.” This is predicted to happen in Canada as well.
“Unfortunately, cannabis vape cartridges are not currently accepted through the Cannabis Packaging Recycling Program,” says TerraCycle’s Payne. It seems the consensus remains to wait and see.
Social Responsibility Beyond Recycling
Throughout all the highs and lows that the industry has faced, it is reassuring to see retailers and producers showing their commitment to social responsibility. Beyond its recycling efforts, The Hunny Pot now offers 100% biodegradable plastic bags. Bags can be kept to use them again; however, once exposed to the elements, they will break down completely within 18 months. This spring, the company is also looking forward to having beehives installed on its roof, furthering their environmental commitment.
Beyond its recycling efforts, The Hunny Pot now offers 100% biodegradable plastic bags.
On the production end, as LPs begin to increase their scale and expand their product focus, cost savings have allowed them to start exploring more advanced sustainable packaging. And, eco-friendly packaging could be just the marketing tool they need to make their green products stand out.