This post is an unplanned followup to my previous entry, this time focusing on recycling cannabis packaging. The article covers some areas I felt compelled to comment on.
Let us begin.
The cannabis growers who had to design cannabis containers faced a long, rigid set of federal rules, and not much time to figure out how to comply with them.
The containers have to have a matte finish, opaque or translucent and be child-resistant (and there are a whole separate set of rules for what that means). The rules go so far as to forbid certain kinds of ink.“The packaging is very regulated,” says Hilary Black, chief advocacy officer at Canopy Growth.
“It has to be childproof. It has to be smellproof. It has to be waterproof, and it has to be food-grade. To meet all of those requirements, we ended up with multi-materials in the packaging, and that’s the thing that makes it difficult to recycle because it requires manual separation. Our municipal recycling programs and facilities are not able to handle that.”
Many local governments Global News contacted disagreed, saying they could recycle empty plastic cannabis containers if residents put them in the blue bin. (In Ontario, most municipalities we talked to said they couldn’t deal with black plastic, but other colours were fine.)However, Black says, they are wrong.“From the photos, those recycling facilities may not understand that there are layers of material in there, and they’re just looking at the black plastic. There’s a layer of tin inside as well.”
I like the honesty coming from the cannabis industry. Unlike the MANY other producers and distributors that hide behind the it’s TECHNICALLY recyclable disclaimer that causes so much grief for downstream sorters, I have to credit at least Canopy growth for being upfront with their packaging. Interestingly, in opposition to municipal recycling authorities.
It makes me wonder about what happens to such product even further down the chain than the community sorting facilities. Not just the potential as explored in the previous post (dumping into the global South). More, if acceptance of this mixed material product is potentially causing rejection of entire batches of product further up the chain.
We know that cities and towns don’t generally have much interest in their trash once it’s paid for and carted off to . . . where ever it ends up.
Though the odd one out, Winnipeg seems the most honest of them all. I am not sure if the reason is based on packaging contents, packaging makeup or a lack of market for the packaging plastic type, however.
Many Canadian cannabis producers, including Redecan, 7Acres, Canopy and Aurora, use black plastic containers, though producers are allowed to use any colour they want.“My understanding is that the multi-material issue is actually the problem, rather than the colour,” Black says.
The reason black is an issue is simple.“It’s because the optical sorters here that sort plastic with sensor opticals can’t differentiate black plastic from the conveyor belt,” explains Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario.
To deal with the issue, Canopy has developed an elaborate workaround, putting cannabis container recycling bins in retail cannabis stores in most provinces, and offering free UPS labels to consumers who are far from a store to send their containers for recycling. The recycling bins are in over 100 cannabis stores in the Prairies and Atlantic Canada.
The recycling company that Canopy uses is ready to deal with the specific issues that pot pots pose.“It’s really great to have a consumer take-back program,” St. Godard says. “That’s progressive. It’s important, and I’m sure consumers will respond to that.”On the other hand, she argues that containers could have been designed that were simpler to recycle.
This is a good step in the right direction on the part of the cannabis industry. Whilst I agree that the packaging SHOULD be less complex to begin with, it’s a budding industry (forgive me) working under the watchful eye of an untrusting government. Producers didn’t have much time to research packaging types beyond the compatible, so I don’t fault them for this choice at this point. Given the interest shown towards sustainability, I don’t doubt that other options are under consideration.
Contrast this to the VAST majority of other manufacturers and distributors that have taken NO responsibility for their end products.
They can’t simply be cleaned out and reused, Black says.
“It’s not because we can’t do it from a regulatory perspective, but actually because of sustainability issues. The way that they’d be required to be sterilized would require a ton of energy and a huge amount of water.”
The regulations don’t actually specify that containers have to be plastic. There are a couple of other possibilities, each with their tradeoffs.
Glass is also a possibility, though one that comes with flaws.
“When you think about glass, it’s heavier to transport. It takes more fuel to take a container of glass materials versus plastic. Plastic’s attributes are that it’s quite light, it’s cheaper to truck them around and doesn’t take as much energy. Glass is breakable so if you’re travelling long distances, it breaks, and then you’ve got contamination issues.”
The federal packaging rules specify many things, but making sure containers can be easily recycled isn’t one of them. For St. Godard, that’s part of the problem:
“I really wish that in the regulations, the federal government would have thought about recyclability of the package. Why not add that as a requirement right at the onset?”
“Then you would have forced these packagers to take the time to better understand how the package behaved, and saved us retroactively going back to try to fix a problem that has irritated consumers, and is a bit of a quandary for cannabis producers, who are just trying to do their job and get a product to market.”
1.) When it comes to alternatives to the current plastic laced packaging, I think that a good one would be aluminum (or steel). Both are likely easier (and cheaper) to procure than glass, and both are easily recycled. Unlike the various melting points of differing plastic resins (not to mention the other sorting requirements), both are easily melted down and repurposed.
Because steel IS steel and aluminum IS aluminum. Whether the raw post-consumer material held beans, beer or cannabis.
2.) Whilst recycling requirements would have been nice, targeting the cannabis industry ONLY with this regulation does NOTHING to even put a dent in the overall plastic recycling (or pollution) problem. The Cannabis industry seems to be doing a lot to address this issue already. It’s time for the rest of us (including the federal government) to catch up.
Manufacturing and utilizing plastic is cheap. Unsurprising, given that its disposal is almost always subsidized by tax-payers.
It’s time for a change. Like any other cash cow, this one won’t be given up without an incentive. Let’s make it happen by turning the tables . . . MANUFACTURERS pay for the plastics they distribute, NOT consumers.