The cannabis industry is failing, but not in the way you might think.
In 2019 the legal marijuana market generated $13.6B in consumer sales; total legal sales are projected to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 17% over the next 6 years reaching nearly $30 billion.
Yet as the crops and the cash they generate only continue to increase, so too does the demand for single-use plastic containers required to package and label all the fruits of the green gold rush.
Even with tax revenues growing substantially as more states legalize cannabis, relatively little consideration is being given to the industry’s potentially devastating environmental impact due to those heaping piles of discarded plastic stash bags, nug jugs, and doob tubes.
Now more than ever, it’s high time to address the ecological consequences -- not to mention the callous irony -- of a budding cannabis industry, which is supposedly devoted to sustainability, yet is also all too often reliant on cheap, environmentally unfriendly packaging that ends up in landfills, incinerators, or littered on the street.
First and foremost, the use of plastic must be addressed. Packaging regulations on marijuana products vary due to different state regulations, but the common thread is that all states require lots of information to be printed onto unique labels that are then affixed to child-proof packaging that contains cannabis products. The reason these child-proof bags are so much larger than the products themselves (which are most likely in another covering of plastic) isn’t in case you plan to purchase an abundance of products, but rather because the labeling regulations per state are often even more extensive than the packaging mandates. Labels must be able to clearly identify ingredients, chemical quantities, warnings, and a list of pretty much everything that has to do with the marijuana itself and how it will make you feel. From disposable pens made of plastic, wrapped in plastic, put in a plastic bag at purchase, to cannabis flower being sealed in plastic, then placed in a different re-sealable plastic bag, there is a lot of single-use plastic being thrown around.
Simply put, sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. Over the last two decades, a number of industries have begun taking responsibility to reduce their impact on the environment and to curtail their carbon footprints through measures including recycling, composting, recording waste production, decreasing water and energy use, donating unused products to charities, and so on. Savvy, socially conscious consumers are rewarding these companies that are putting the right step forward and helping within their community and contributing to the overall well-being of the planet.
So what will it take to incentivize the cannabis industry to adopt sustainable practices and avoid the aggressive use of single-use plastics?
While marijuana has numerous positive impacts such as mitigating the pain of cancer, calming anxiety, employing thousands of people, and increasing state tax revenue, there is still much work to be done in terms of how the cannabis industry can enhance the environment that we all live in. Certainly, it is important to recognize cannabis manufacturers who provide environmentally friendly alternatives. The Natural Marketing Institute found consumers are 58 percent more likely to buy products or services while knowing a company is mindful of its impact on the environment and society. Furthermore, consumers noted being willing to spend up to 20 percent more on environmentally sound products and services.
To be fair, it should be noted that some dispensaries offer discounts on purchases with the reuse of the re-sealable bag from a previous transaction. However, it should not go unnoticed that there are a multitude of companies whose environmental approach consists largely of “greenwashing,” wherein they claim to be sustainable and have a positive impact on the environment when in fact they are only manipulating eco-friendly claims to boost sales.
While there is a long road ahead for the cannabis industry to adopt more sustainable practices, it is up to us as consumers to make sustainable decisions. Ask yourself these questions next time you make a purchase: Is the material encasing my product reusable? Is it biodegradable? Is this product multi-use or disposable?
Quite frankly, without a healthy ecosystem, we might not be around long enough to purchase these products. It is time to stop greenwashing the marijuana industry and find reasonable solutions to help keep our Earth clean. Marijuana is a plant, and plants are what keep the world breathing. Let’s let this plant breathe without all that added plastic waste that’s accumulating alongside legalization.