Ross Kirsh launched Dymapak in New York in 2010. Coming from a family with a rich manufacturing history, he founded the company after working for several years in Hong Kong where his interests, skills and passion for product development took shape.
Filling a niche for odor-proof bags in tobacco stores, the business grew as it immersed itself in cannabis markets across the country. After designing and inventing a patented child safety pouch, the first of its kind for Colorado’s first adult sale in 2014, the company continued to achieve a global scale and is today recognized as the global leader in l ‘cannabis packaging.
While the cannabis industry has long drawn the wrath of environmentalists over its growing energy problem, the packaging side of the business faces very similar issues; the cannabis industry also has a plastic problem. In most states where cannabis is legal, state regulations require producers and dispensaries to package all cannabis products in opaque child-resistant packaging, with several states requiring dispensaries to place entire orders in large quantities. large childproof outlet bags before customers leave with their purchase.
Dymapak, led by Kirsh, is working on initiatives to help address environmental sustainability in cannabis packaging and turn industry-wide interest into action. Ross will offer ideas and the company’s action plan at the next Virtual conference on cannabis packaging 1st December. And before that conversation, we caught up with him to find out more.
Aaron G. Biros: Tell me a bit about yourself and the birth of Dymapak. What brought you to the cannabis space and where are you today?
Ross Kirsh: My family has deep roots in manufacturing. In the mid-1970s my uncle and his brothers all started separate manufacturing businesses after one of the brothers moved to Hong Kong to open a handbag and luggage factory. The 1970s turned out to be a unique time for working overseas in Hong Kong as few US companies were operating there when China first announced its open door policy around 1979. And as you can see Expect it, he became a sourcing agent for many large companies in the United States who needed reliable boots in the field.
I went to college, studied computer science and deep down I always knew product development and the manufacturing process was too interesting not to be followed. I already knew that Hong Kong was ripe for learning entrepreneurship, so I went abroad to find out more and fell in love with the culture, the opportunities and the people. Immediately after graduation, I moved to Hong Kong. I started working with my family, who taught me the job from start to finish. I helped develop several product lines and lived next to one of our factories in southern China to immerse myself.
After 3.5 years abroad, I began to lead sales operations in the United States. A year ago in the United States, I had unique customers who owned tobacco and tobacco stores telling me that cannabis packaging existed in the market, but not quite what everyone was looking for. In truth, the business was born the minute a customer said, “Can you make me a retail ready odor bag?” I thought I could, and the rest – as they say – is history.
What started and was established in 2010 really took shape at an accelerated pace in 2013, when my relationship with one of the first dispensary owners / operators in Denver – Ean Seeb of Denver Relief – came with a golden opportunity; Invent child-resistant packaging for cannabis, it didn’t exist, but it was mandatory under Colorado’s first-ever recreational cannabis regulations. I spent 7 of the next 8 weeks in China developing a solution and I’m proud to say that our bag was used in the first recreational sale when Colorado became legal in January 2014. From there, the business has grown rapidly and organically across the industry.
Biros: Environmental sustainability is a big issue for cannabis. Not just on the energy-consuming side, but especially when it comes to the packaging and its plastic problem. How is your company tackling this problem and are you working on initiatives to eliminate or reduce plastic waste?
Kirsh: We recognize firsthand the problems with plastic. While the hardware is packed with benefits, the drawbacks are both imminent and essential to understand.
What many don’t realize is that for most cannabis packaging that is recyclable in order to be truly recycled, the customer must first find a drop-off point, either at a dispensary or elsewhere that accepts the material. The process relies exclusively on the consumer to act as the products cannot be recycled at the curb. And unfortunately statistics show that very few consumers take the time to bring the packaging back for recycling.
So, yes, we do produce recyclable bags in our wallet, but we really want to get to the root of the problem here: pollution. We have looked in a few different areas. And we developed a different bag that is 30% post-consumer resin, which means 30% is made from reused plastics.
More so, we recently partnered with Plastic Bank, a socially conscious industry leader, which builds regenerative and recycling ecosystems in underdeveloped communities. They work to collect plastic waste from the ocean – extracting it to ensure their opportunity to enter the recycling ecosystem. Through our partnership with Plastic Bank, we’ll help prevent more than six million plastic bottles from entering the ocean this year alone. And I’m really proud of it.
Biros: Where do you see the cannabis packaging industry evolving in the next five years?
Kirsh: I think this is a fascinating question. Sustainability will play a huge role in the future of this market. Just as we are seeing the phase-out of single-use plastic bags across the country, it will also happen in other regions as part of this larger trend.
I predict more one-off and on-demand needs in the future; the possibility of seeing the traceability in real time, similar to the pharmaceutical industry. People will expect lot numbers and lot numbers, with data, in real time. It will become central for the company.
Gaining and cultivating trust will soon be another big hurdle for companies in this sector. With federal legalization comes a greater sense of professionalism and more sophistication for the market.
Yet the continued pressure on environmental sustainability will be the biggest change over the next five years. When considering sustainability in the packaging industry, paying attention to the format or choice of material should be a priority. For example, if you are shipping a glass jar, the amount of space a shipping container takes up has a huge impact on the environment, which is called a hidden impact. One shipping container can hold millions of bags, but you need eight shipping containers for glass jars to get the same storage capacity. It’s a question of efficiency, which is a little more hidden, and I hope that consumers will be more and more informed about what companies are doing to stay respectful of the environment.
Biros: Ross, thank you very much for your time today.
Kirsh: My pleasure, Aaron.