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The High 5 Initiative at work recycling cannabis packaging

What can dispensaries do to keep cannabis packaging out of the landfill?

For those of us immersed in the marketing side of the cannabis industry, it’s a rare week when we don’t receive multiple email campaigns about eco-friendly packaging solutions. Some of these companies actually provide biodegradable products and other truly sustainable options. But in other cases, “eco-friendly” just means the package CAN be recycled. And that’s not enough. 

While we’d like to pretend we live in a Utopia where everyone recycles non-stop, that’s simply not the reality. The problem is not just laziness. Many consumers live in cities that don’t provide recycling programs and some types of cannabis packaging are particularly difficult–if not impossible–to recycle. 

Take Colorado. The state has tried—and failed—to implement recycling programs for cannabis packaging. Those programs didn’t collapse because of consumer disinterest; rather, they collapsed because there are no recycling centers in Colorado that will take weed packaging. Recycling centers in the Centennial State follow federal regulations, and if there’s any THC in the donated packages, the centers consider those products to be drug contraband, which they’re not allowed to take due to federal prohibition. 

But all is not lost. Dispensaries across the country are going the extra mile to prevent cannabis packaging from ending up in the landfill. 

High 5 recyclers at work

In Maryland, several dispensary brands are supporting the “High 5 Recycling Initiative.” This nonprofit organization promotes and enables sustainable practices and environmental conservation. They do this via a “dual stream” path. Retail locations sign up as participating collection centers where consumers can drop off the plastic material. Volunteers then transport the material to a processing center where it’s ground for transport into 40,000 pound units, which are later processed into a raw material that local manufacturers use to make non-food-grade items like junction boxes and air conditioner pads. This landfill diversion model ensures that all of the material collected is actually recycled, keeping it out of our landfills and waterways.

In larger states with mature recreational markets, other services are offered to help offset the waste. Seattle dispensaries Canna West and Canna Culture Shop  provide recycling bins and offer loyalty points to consumers who recycle their weed packaging. CannaCycle offers to ease the stress of cannabis waste in California by providing consumers with an innovative drop-off recycling service. They accept glass jars, pre-roll tubes, boxes, concentrate containers, and other packaging. (The only exception is vape cartridges and pens.) CannaCycle collects and cleans these items and then returns the packages to cannabis companies to be used again.

Also in California, Airfield Supply Co, CannaCraft, and Resynergi have joined forces to pilot a plastic recycling project that’s unlike any other we’ve seen thus far.  Resynergi provides in-store bins so that consumers can drop off recyclable containers. Using energy-efficient, low-emissions pyrolysis, Resynergi are able to convert traditionally non-recyclable plastics into profitable fuel and chemical products. Clean fuels produced by the Resynergi system are an alternative to refined oil products.  

In other states where recycling programs are within reach, creative dispensary operators are offering incentives like discounts on purchase for those who choose to bring recyclable goods back to their dispensary of origin, while some others are using cloth bags that provide a customer discount each time the patron returns and uses the bag.    

Some dispensaries that are unable to execute logistics for recycling are instead promoting reuse ideas for all kinds of cannabis packaging.  Müv of Florida, Elevation2477 of California, and Culta of Maryland have all posted creative reuse ideas for packaging. (Elevation2477 suggests that jars that typically house eighths of flower can be reused for storing everything from bobby pins to dog treats, and other fun ideas.)

Aside from industry operators, special interest groups devoted to the environment offer multiple recommendations about how to reuse packaging from the cannabis industry.  Those states that are required to have CR exit bags?  Culta suggests using them for toiletry bags when traveling and offers additional creative suggestions

What innovative ideas are you seeing in the cannabis industry with regard to waste?  

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