Cannabis packaging regulations are environmentally irresponsible

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The cannabis industry has a waste problem. Each product manufactured, sold and consumed contributes to the pollution of the oceans, which in 2010 was estimated at 8 million tonnes of plastic. A major contributor to this staggering statistic is one-off plastic packaging, which is very common in the cannabis industry (along with pharmaceuticals). This is due to strict regulations on contamination and purity, and exacerbates an already severe environmental crisis.

But the biggest sustainability issue facing this incredibly fast growing industry right now is the regulation itself.

To achieve the highest quality product and reduce contaminants, many countries and states, including the United States, have regulations limiting or prohibiting the reuse of pharmaceutical containers. This means that each product sold requires its own child-resistant packaging – usually single-use, sometimes reclosable – depending on each state’s regulations. This leaves us with the unintended consequence of more packaging than we would like.

Two major factors contribute to the problem:

1. The need to ensure the safety and quality of the product (against contamination, mold growth, pests or mishandling).

2. The need for “seed to sale” traceability and compliance, which is the requirement for growers, processors and distributors to track the product through every step of the production process, from seed to sale. . There are important labeling requirements for this (product names, license number, lot or lot codes, allergens, net quantity, cannabis facts, cautions and THC warning logos issued by the State). So keeping everything in individual single-use containers greatly facilitates this arduous process.

When current regulations require more packaging volume, increased costs put pressure on prices. Low cost solutions are entering the market, and in almost all cases the solution is a non-recyclable product from an unsustainable company.

Regulatory red tape and dubious inexpensive solutions create a dangerous cycle. Executives, business founders and, yes, even consumers, need to do better. We must fight for cleaner regulatory practices that can lead to greater sustainability in all of the many companies working side by side with cannabis, including agriculture, manufacturing and my industry, packaging.

A beneficial trend Рand a step in the right direction Рis to regulate the materials and design of containers to use post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics. In fact, the regulatory body that oversees cannabis sales in Quebec (Distributor provincial de cannabis au Qu̩bec) released revisions to its packaging regulations in early August 2021 requiring companies to use responsive packaging. to certain criteria, in particular the incorporation of PCR resins in the container. Each of the US state regulators should adopt similar provisions for their own regulations.

In an ideal world, we should be able to use current safety requirements as a catalyst to reduce pollution by focusing on the collection and reuse of the millions of tons of already existing plastic packaging waste.

Regulatory changes are essential to mitigate long-term environmental damage. Industry players need to be intimately aware of their product’s lifecycle and understand the sustainability impact of every decision they make. By pushing for change, the cannabis industry can continue to grow with fewer environmental disasters in its wake.

Without any federal regulation, we are faced with a patchwork of regulations and regulatory bodies that vary from state to state. The most direct action anyone can take to support short-term change is to contact your state’s regulatory agency. In Colorado, for example, it is the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Several other organizations that people can support, both inside and outside the cannabis industry, are trying to set standards that states can use as guidelines or actually lobby to shape future federal legislation. One is the Cannabis Committee at ASTM, a global standards organization now working on standards for almost every facet of cannabis: from cultivation to transport to testing and more. Another organization, NCIA, is a professional association that, among other things, organizes annual lobbying trips to Washington, arranging meetings with Senators on Capitol Hill over several days.

In the long run, organizations like these will certainly be the most important means of implementing change, but our impact will be limited until federal law is passed.


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