Marijuana is legal for some or all adults in more than half of U.S. states. As the cannabis industry takes off, it has the potential to deliver a product with minimal environmental impact. Hemp packaging may help make those sales sustainable rather than leading to more harmful waste.
The cannabis industry is currently the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. In the last year, Americans spent more money buying cannabis than wine. While marijuana has been legalized in many states, it still hasn’t been legalized at the federal level. This means that there are few federal regulations regarding ethical trade and transportation of cannabis products.
As a result, the industry itself is working to create ethical transportation and packaging standards. Cannabis sales are expected to add $92 billion to the U.S. economy this year alone, and to exceed $130 billion by 2025. That could create a lot of packaging waste.
Hemp cannabis packaging offers a smart, potentially sustainable way to transport cannabis. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Hemp Packaging for Cannabis?
Hemp is a plant-based, biodegradable material specifically grown to make paper, textiles, bioplastics, and other materials used in packaging. Delivering cannabis products in hemp packaging is a potentially sustainable way to protect cannabis products.
Hemp is a sustainable crop that requires little water, pesticides, or fertilizers for a high crop yield. Hemp can grow in a wide variety of soils, which means that hemp can be grown locally, near the company that uses it in packaging. This means that you can create a circular economy that supports itself rather than an economy based on trade with other countries. You can reduce carbon emissions by reducing the distance that packaging has to travel, and support the local economy at the same time.
Is Hemp Packaging a Sustainable Option?
Scientists writing in the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report recommend halving carbon emissions by the year 2030 to prevent catastrophic consequences from global warming. But if the fast-growing cannabis industry relies on the outdated paper and plastic packaging we’ve seen in other industries, it could counteract attempts to reduce carbon footprints.
By using hemp packaging, cannabis retailers can reduce environmental waste.
Unfortunately, as of right now, this solution is not perfect. Because marijuana shoppers like to see the product they are buying, bioplastics make up a large portion of cannabis packaging. But because bioplastics require higher temperatures to compost than home composting solutions provide, more industrial composting facilities are needed to fully capitalize on this solution.
Still, hemp packaging is still more sustainable than other packaging solutions.
How Can You Identify Hemp Packaging at the Dispensary?
All cannabis packaging, whether made from hemp or other materials, should provide the following features, according to The National Cannabis Packaging and Labeling Standards Committee:
- Opaque, to discourage youth from buying
- Child-resistant, to protect children in the buyer’s home
- Clearly labeled to allow buyers to understand the THC and CBD potency, as well as to provide information about how the cannabis was grown.
Unfortunately, there is no standard labeling of hemp-based, compostable packaging. You may not be able to identify hemp packaging with a naked eye. Although some of it looks cloth-like, hemp packaging comes in a variety of textures, from hemp plastics to hemp papers.
However, if you’re looking to vote with your money by purchasing cannabis products in hemp packaging, there are some things you can look for. Often, these packages are labeled as being made with hemp. For example, Sana — a brand specializing in hemp packaging — labels their hemp plastics with the words “made from 100% plant-based hemp plastic.” Hemp plastics, like other plastics, are labeled with a resin identification code.
Other hemp packaging products, from hemp fabrics to hemp papers, are also labeled as being made from hemp. These products are even better for the environment than bioplastics, because unlike bioplastics — which will produce methane if they wind up in landfills — hemp paper and cloth products are fully recyclable and biodegradable, and even remove carbon dioxide from the environment.
How Do You Responsibly Dispose of Hemp Packaging?
One of the major reasons to purchase cannabis with hemp packaging is to reduce the waste going to landfills. Hemp paper and boxes can be placed in your recycling bin.
However, hemp plastics may not be recyclable. Check the number on your plastic container and call your local recycling center if you’re unsure if a plastic hemp container can be recycled. Remember that wishcycling does more harm than good; don’t put anything in the bin that your local program doesn’t accept.
For packaging that can’t be recycled, you have several options. One choice is to upcycle your hemp packaging, which can make great planters, food containers, and even earring holders.
Alternatively, hemp can be composted. Currently, only 5% of compostable materials are actually composted, largely due to the fact that states may not have the infrastructure to compost materials or buyers may not know that materials are compostable. You can be part of the solution by composting fiber-based hemp packaging at home and by voting for your local community to invest in industrial composting facilities.
Like other compostable plastics, hemp bioplastics require industrial composting, which is available in only a few dozen U.S. locations at this time. This is, however, the optimal solution for disposal of hemp plastics, as there is evidence that bioplastics break down into harmful microplastics in landfills and as litter, just like petroleum-based plastics. If you don’t have access to industrial composting, we recommend you reach out to your legislators and ask them to vote to fund industrial composting facilities in your area.
The Future of Cannabis Packaging
Like many industries, the cannabis industry needs to be flexible and adaptable. As a consumer, you can help improve this industry by voting with your money. Purchasing products packaged with hemp shows cannabis companies that sustainability matters to you.
Look for hemp packaging at your local dispensary, or ask shop owners to buy from brands that package their products sustainably. Consider choosing products that are wrapped in hemp paper, cloth hemp packaging, and recycled materials, as these are the most environmentally friendly options.
You can also increase the sustainability of hemp packaging by contacting your elected officials about the need for more industrial composting facilities capable of breaking down hemp plastics. The more that consumers like you do their part to support sustainability efforts, the closer we’ll come to reducing carbon emissions and helping the planet thrive.
About the Author
Co-founder and CSO of Sana Packaging, James Eichner is a founding member of the WeedWeek Council, he sits on California Cannabis Coalition’s Environmental Committee, and he has written educational pieces for HEMP Magazine, MG Retailer, and more. James has also won several pitch competitions on behalf of Sana Packaging. Prior to cannabis, James worked in the social and environmental justice sectors.