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Cannabis Has a Waste Problem. Here's How to Combat It.

California company CannaCraft is thinking about plastics in a new way.

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As billionaires blast off into space to search for inhabitable planets, there are other business leaders doing their part to keep the planet we have from either burning up or being buried under all the garbage we produce. CannaCraft, a community-oriented cannabis company based in Sonoma County, has made it its mission to tackle the plastic packaging waste issue.

I spoke with Tiffany Devitt, Chief of Government and Consumer Affairs for CannaCraft, to get a sense of what they’re doing to mitigate the problem and help us earthbound folks do the right thing.

Just how bad is the plastic packaging waste issue in the cannabis industry?

It’s difficult to quantify an exact number, but considering the cannabis market generated over $16 billion in sales in 2020, it’s clear there are a lot of packaged products being made and consumed. California saw an uptick in plastic packaging in 2018 when adult-use regulations went into effect. These were mostly sensible changes, such as clear labeling and warnings, and child-resistant packaging on edibles, capsules, tinctures, or any product that could be easily mistaken or consumed by a child. But others didn’t make sense, like child-resistant packaging on vape cartridges, which are inherently child-resistant. Rather than adding an unnecessary 3” plastic tube to the more than 1 million cartridges, CannaCraft sells each year (enough to cover about 60 miles, or the distance from our Santa Rosa facility to San Francisco), we went through the process to have our cartridges certified as child-resistant under the requirements of the Poison Prevention Packaging Act.

On balance, is the cannabis industry part of the problem or part of the solution?

Compared to other major CPG’s, cannabis is less wasteful because of our physical barriers. All of our business is done within state borders, so we don’t have a need for extraneous plastic packaging to protect products making the long journey from an international facility, to an east coast distributor, to California.

The products we manufacture at our facility go across the street to our distribution facility when they are complete, then they’re driven to retailers who sell them locally. Though the industry is changing, the spirit of the cannabis community has always valued natural and sustainable solutions. Flashy or unnecessary plastic packaging for display purposes might be a turnoff to both retailers looking to optimize shelf space and consumers looking to make responsible purchasing decisions.

California Governor Gavin Newsom and Tiffany Devitt. Photo courtesy of CannaCraft

You mention child-resistant packaging — is that somewhat of an intractable problem?

Somewhat, but CR requirements aren’t the only issue. Another problem is that there isn’t much in the way of biodegradable, child-resistant packaging available. That’s an issue that goes beyond the cannabis industry. Equally important, what’s available is typically very expensive. Given the other economic pressures the industry is under—excessive taxes, high regulatory costs and artificially restricted markets—the cost of sustainable CR packaging is cost-prohibitive for most in our industry

What are the goals of your partnership with Resynergi?

Originally we planned to collect plastic waste from our facilities and large-scale cannabis events. Then, using Resynergi’s proprietary oil conversion system, we’d turn that plastic waste into fuel for our distribution vehicles. But we heard from customers and retailers who also wanted to participate. Taking that into consideration, we recently launched an in-store campaign in April with a dispensary partner to collect plastic packaging from customers in exchange for discounts at the dispensary. In one store, we had nearly 2,500 customers exchange plastic cannabis packaging, for a total of 232 pounds of waste. This was a huge success for our pilot program, and we’re now expanding that program to 10 more dispensaries.

What kind of fuel can waste be converted into?

Resynergi takes traditionally non-recyclable plastics and converts them into highly profitable fuel and chemical products, with the only plastic byproduct being water and CO2. Their clean fuel is an alternative to refined oil products, yet their process produces 60% less greenhouse gas emissions for diesel compared to fossil fuel extraction and refining.

What steps can other cannabis companies take to do their part?

Promote and facilitate recycling. Lobby for regulatory changes that reduce waste and support the industry’s ability to afford sustainable packaging. And use the minimal amount of packaging necessary, even if it means your products’ “footprint” on the shelf will be smaller. In other words, prioritize environmental considerations over short-term marketing gains.