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Greening the future

Sustainable packaging in the Canadian cannabis industry


January 1, 2021
By Katie Pringle and Danielle McKay

Topics
The Terracycle x Tweed collaboration for recycling cannabis packaging has been a huge hit with consumers.

Packaging is one of the biggest sources of complaint since cannabis became legalized two years ago. While green cannabis packaging alone won’t fix all of the Canadian cannabis industry’s sustainability problems it will play a significant role in lowering our collective carbon footprint.

Since legalization, the industry has seen innovation and improvements in sustainable packaging. However, we’re nowhere close to being a truly eco-friendly industry. Sustainability is important to many cannabis brands, but strict regulations, limited options and financial constraints can make cannabis packaging seem like a no-win situation.

Green consumers
Consumers are becoming more aware of how their purchases impact the environment. Studies show 65 per cent of consumers say they want more sustainable products, and 26 per cent actually seek them out. Cannabis has deep ties to the sustainability movement, coupled with eco-conscious millennials and the most sustainability-minded generation yet coming of age. Cannabis is facing the perfect storm of ‘green consumers.’

Recycling
One of the biggest problems with cannabis packaging is the lack of recycling options, particularly through municipalities. The Terracycle x Tweed collaboration for recycling cannabis packaging has been a huge hit with consumers, but for those without a participating retail store nearby, the struggle to recycle remains.

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Brands are consistently being recognized on Twitter and in cannabis media for listening to consumers and prioritizing recyclable packaging and recycling programs. For example, cannabis retailer Superette received very positive media and consumer attention for its cannabis recycling campaign. For every cannabis package returned to one of its locations for recycling, the retailer provided a canned good to the Ottawa Food Bank. The campaign not only helps reduce waste but also provides resources to their local community – even offering to cover postage for people who reached out on social media about wanting to participate in the program.

Sustainable materials
One of the easiest ways to improve cannabis packaging is to make the switch to sustainable materials. Nowhere in the Cannabis Act does it say packaging needs to be plastic. Health Canada’s regulations state packaging must be child-resistant, prevent contamination and ensure the product is kept dry. Plastic has been the go-to choice so far because it is cost-effective, lightweight and meets these standards, but consumers aren’t happy about it. The two biggest contenders to replace plastic are hemp/bioplastic and glass.

Hemp/bioplastic
What cannabis enthusiast doesn’t love hemp? Hemp plastic and other bioplastics are becoming an excellent packaging alternative BioNano Virus Detection System, not only for cannabis products but other consumer packaged goods as well. Hemp is a very sustainable and resilient crop, but turning it into plastic is no easy feat. Experts are looking to streamline that process to make the end-product more sustainable. While hemp plastic isn’t a viable industry-wide alternative yet, it certainly has the potential to become one.

Glass
Glass isn’t perfect. It’s heavier than plastic which makes it more expensive to produce and ship. There is also a greater chance of it breaking, and more thought needs to be put into making it opaque and child resistant. This being said, glass is becoming a favourite amongst cannabis consumers. It’s more eco-friendly than plastic and easier to recycle. Glass can also be repurposed in the home as a stash jar, spice jar or succulent planter. It also stores cannabis better than plastic at maintaining the potency, flavour and longevity of cannabis products.

Simply Bare Organic has become a hit on social media in this regard. It’s glass packaging is beautiful, compliant and sustainable. Glass isn’t just good for flower; topical brand Earth Kisses Sky also utilizes glass packaging for its ready-to-infuse salves and will continue with glass packaging for the company’s infused cannabis salves hitting the shelves in early 2021.

Promote your packaging
Due to the regulations around cannabis packaging, many companies have been promoting speculative packaging online and in stores to showcase their brand better, but packaging promotion should go beyond that. Brands that make sustainable choices when it comes to packaging should be promoting this and educating the consumer. If making sustainable choices is a core value for a brand, this needs to be integrated into the brand story.

Regulation overload
Cannabis regulations are challenging but they’re an unavoidable part of the industry for the time being. So how can brands navigate regulations while still staying true to their brand and sustainability goals? Working with professionals is key.

When choosing a packaging provider, cannabis brands should choose companies with significant knowledge of cannabis packaging and labelling requirements. Additionally, enlisting the support of a branding and marketing company early on helps brands identify their core values and ensure the packaging decisions they make align with their brand objectives. Finally, it never hurts to get an opinion from a cannabis lawyer to double check that everything is above board, not only for packaging but the overall strategy as well.

An ideal future
Cannabis packaging regulations aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, as the cannabis industry progresses, we can expect to learn from the market and make appropriate legislation changes as time goes on.

So what are some changes that would help reduce packaging while still keeping safety as a priority? One area that might make sense is removing the opaque requirement to allow for glass to be a more mainstream choice for producers – similar to how alcoholic beverages are packaged, using bottles that are almost all clear or transparent.

Adjusting the contaminant requirements is another area for improvement. This will easily allow for package return programs where the same containers can be reused, like Lush Cosmetics does, or as we did during the days of the milkman. These changes would be tangible steps in the right direction towards a smaller carbon footprint.

Brands and consumers make a difference
To effect progressive changes the industry and consumers need to make their voice heard. When surveys, studies and feedback requests are available from the government, industry agencies and other third-parties, consider submitting your feedback and suggestions. Cannabis was legalized as a result of this industry’s persistence and passion. We can work towards becoming greener in the same way.


Katie Pringle is an integrated marketing expert and the co-founder of Marigold Marketing and PR. She is forward-looking, delivers beyond expectation and is always ready for the unexpected. 

Danielle McKay is the marketing and media executive at Marigold Marketing and PR, executing marketing, PR and profile building for clients and internal brands.