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Wednesday June 26, 2019

By Paul Barach


If you’re like most socially conscious cannabis consumers in legalized states, you have at least once held a pre-roll tube, a pop-top container, or concentrate jar and asked “Is there a way to recycle this?” It’s only natural that you want to do your part to save the planet. On all other fronts you’re on top of your game; cutting beer ring holders, stacking your cardboard, separating your glass bottles by color, and tossing your plastic jugs or cartons into the blue bins. However, there’s not a lot of guidance for recycling your cannabis containers. So what can you do? Is there a way to recycle your cannabis packaging? The answer is yes!

Cannabis Reuse, Recycling and Dispensary Involvement

The first step to recycling cannabis packaging starts at your local dispensary. Before you even think about throwing your cannabis packaging in the recycling bin, consider if you can reuse it first. Cannabis packaging can be used for a variety of purposes (like storing home-grown flower or home-pressed rosin) and many dispensaries offer some discount when you bring back your used exit bags if local laws allow it. Reusing is more energy-conscious than recycling, so be sure to ask your budtender about their packaging return policy.

Always ask your dispensary if they have a reuse or recycling program for cannabis packaging.

Please note that while some dispensaries will allow you to re-use exit bags, most will not allow customers to re-use or re-fill packaging that has contained regulated marijuana products. However, some dispensaries do offer recycling programs and incentives for bringing in old containers so always be sure to ask your local shop. If your dispensary doesn’t have a policy for recycling or re-using exit bags and containers, you can politely but firmly request that they start one by reaching out on their website’s contact page or in their online review page. Successful dispensary owners usually pay religious attention to their ratings and reviews, and they will get the message if enough people comment.

How to Recycle Cannabis Packaging

If none of your local dispensaries have a reuse program, it’s worth Googling around to see what options there are for recycling cannabis packaging in your community. Start-ups like Colorado’s Green for Green are working to revolutionize cannabis container reuse, and provide recycling bins around the Front Range for easy drop-offs of your used tubes. Another option is a charitable organization such as Matthew 25 Ministries, which accept donated containers before sending them off to countries in need of medical supply containers.

Most importantly, in order to recycle anything, whether in a bin or one of the options listed above, you’ll need to clean the containers out first and make sure they’re recyclable in your area.

As far as containers go, concentrates are the easiest. Glass is always recyclable and it’s the most environmentally safe packaging to purchase. Just like your food containers, be sure to wash out your glass completely so that it’s free of resin, crumbles, or kief before putting it in your recycling bin.

When it comes to pre-rolls, flower, and edibles, recycling gets a little more complicated. The first thing to do is check the bottom of your plastic container for the number embossed at the center of the recycling triangle symbol. This number tells you what type of plastic it is. Once you have that number, call your local recycling center and ask about their policies for accepting different types of plastics. They’ll tell you which numbers you can toss into your recycling bins and which ones have to go in the trash.

Recycling cannabis packaging is similar to more traditional recycling methods for glass and plastic. photo credit

If they do accept your packaging, be sure to clean it out first and remove the labels. Some warm soapy water will remove any lingering weed residue, and a quick soak in some hot water will loosen the glue to make peeling off the labels a breeze. While this should be the end of the story, recycling’s gotten a little trickier lately due to China’s refusal to accept any more American waste.

Tips for Making Use of Leftover Cannabis Packaging

If you can’t return or recycle your cannabis packaging containers, your best bet is to repurpose some of them. They’re great for organizing small, loose items. Paperclips and thumbtacks, loose change, screws, or crafting supplies fit great into pop tops. If large enough, pop tops also make great joint or blunt holders for keeping your rolled cannabis safe on-the-go!

Still, there’s only so many paperclips one can own, and weed runs out a lot faster than thumbtacks, which means you’re probably stuck throwing away at least some of your containers, which will either end up in a landfill or the ocean.

The Impact of Waste Created by the Cannabis Industry

So what can be done about the cannabis packaging issue? The first thing you can do is either write up an email or pick up your phone and call your state’s cannabis authority (ex. The Marijuana Enforcement Division in Colorado). One of the main reasons there is so much packaging associated with legal cannabis is the copious amount of rules that surround how a marijuana product can be sold.  

As cannabis consumers of a certain age may remember, packaging used to be pretty simple, and it remains so for those in non-legalized states. Usually, it was a zip lock sandwich baggie (or a cigarette pack’s plastic cover for some of us). Then, legalization happened. For the countless social, economic, and medical benefits that each state has experienced by ending cannabis prohibition, they’ve had to accept the government oversight that comes with it. Sometimes necessary, sometimes overzealous, regulations have transformed the way marijuana is sold. One of the biggest (negative) environmental impacts of cannabis regulation has been in packaging.

The cannabis industry currently has a large environmental impact because of waste. photo credit

Mandated child-proof, tamper-proof containers have been required for medications since the Nixon Administration and no one is arguing that it’s a bad thing. Children have a way of getting into places, and children still go to the hospital every year for accidentally ingesting marijuana products that careless parents left out or didn’t hide well enough. Usually, the worst symptom is dizziness or an upset stomach. However, the unexpected by-product of these safety measures has been an upswing in plastic waste comparable to shopping bags and water bottles.

Besides childproofing, there’s a ballooning amount of information required on cannabis packages. Just a container of weed alone needs to include such information as its weight, ingredients, basic cannabinoid profile, harvest batch, and warnings that the marijuana you are about to consume may have marijuana-like effects. Regulations vary from state to state, and country to country, but by some estimates the grams of plastic used to sell a gram of weed can be anywhere from 4 to 70 grams, including the foil, cardboard, wrap, and other packaging. 

For example, the standard plastic packaging for a quarter of weed can weigh up to four times more than the bud contained inside. The container for a half eighth can weigh six times more, and the packaging for a gram of concentrate can outweigh its contents by up to 30 times more.

To sum it all up, recycling your packaging is important and can be pretty easy to do with a little bit of internet research. There are plenty of options as long as you make sure to clean out your containers. However, not all packaging is recyclable everywhere and a lot of if still ends up either as litter or in landfills. It’s important to contact your local representatives and officials to get them to reduce the amount of packaging used in the first place. It’s time the cannabis industry starts focusing on the planet, not just the plants.

What are your thoughts on the current nature of cannabis packing in legal markets? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo Credit: Gary Chan (license)


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

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