A Look At The Detrimental Amount Of Plastic In The Marijuana Industry

There is an evident problem and massive issue surrounding the immense amount of plastic that is seen in the cannabis industry.  While this booming industry has provided people with recreational and medicinal needs, as well as boosted numerous economies to a plentiful state, this issue throughout the cannabis industry has caused an unseen and horrific plastic waste trend. As one of the most forward-thinking and liberal industries of our time, we as consumers should have seen the extensive and immeasurable amount of packaging that was going to waste throughout this industry.

Plastic pollution is one of the leading forms of destruction to our Earth’s ecosystems. Currently, there are 51 trillion pieces of plastic circulating in our oceans, with around 8 million pieces of plastic entering the oceans every day. These mainly single-use plastic items that consumers purchase when going to buy marijuana or concentrates from a dispensary never truly break all the way down. Instead, they slowly live on for up to 500 years in a marine environment, and break down into microplastics that reside in all ecosystems and sealife (which we are consuming as well). There is no way to mass clean up these large amounts of existing plastic material littering The Earth … all we can do is stop using more [Plastic]. 


Dispensaries and manufacturing facilities, as well as individual companies, all have a crucial responsibility in ensuring that their packaging is up to date on the most sustainable practices,  and making sure that their ethos are matching up with the most conservational ideals out there. The moral responsibility of individuals will eventually turn into a requirement as we try to backtrack through years of shameful plastic pollution. 

There are current laws and regulations in place keeping the trend of plastic containers throughout dispensaries. The main law critical to this issue is the need for packaging restrictions that include universal symbol requirements;  label and packaging rules involving strict child-resistant packaging; and labels that state quantity limitations and marijuana equivalencies.

Basically, by the end of all of this packaging, you are left with a plastic container (certain concentrates are packaged in double plastic containers) that is then sealed with a thick child-resistant lid, stamped with two plastic coded labels, then put in a plastic bag for you to walk out the door. This is for every single purchase and for whenever separate strains are purchased.


To put it more into perspective, as of 2018 there  were 520 dispensaries in Colorado alone, and if each of those dispensaries  distributed 30 plastic containers to consumers every day, that makes for 5,694,000 plastic containers heading to the landfill in just ONE state, in just ONE year. 

Vaping is another tremendous issue associated with single-use waste throughout the cannabis industry. These newfound standard disposable vaporizer cartridges that are burned through by vape batteries (also not long-standing material) are  even more destructive than some of the packaging we see throughout these retail stores. Vape sales have nearly doubled throughout the states (from $3.4 million to $6.42 million in California throughout 2018) as the convenience factor of smoking anywhere you want becomes more and more popular [Rise].


Shannon Gray, Marijuana Communications Specialist of The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, spoke to Inside Out Perspective about some of the specifics when it comes to Colorado regulation of packaging:  “The Marijuana Enforcement Division’s rules specific to labeling, packaging, and product safety are in place to ensure that no packaging containing marijuana is made to appeal to minors, or no marijuana is contained in packages easily opened by minors. As such, marijuana products and concentrates must [be] in a child-resistant container, and any product transferred to a customer must also be in a child-resistant exit package. Plastic is not a requirement as long as the containers are child-resistant. It is our understanding that exit packages are commonly reused within the industry.” 

She continued, “For an overview of the packaging requirements for licensees, I would recommend visiting MED’s industry bulletin page, specifically the packaging and labeling section, to see the information that the Division has released to aid licensees with voluntary compliance.”


Several dispensaries in the Greater Denver Area participate in Green For Green, the first company that has truly committed to reducing and diverting waste from the cannabis industry. Green For Green are leaders in the sustainability movement throughout the cannabis industry, and are devoted to initiating and leading a social revolution around these eco-friendly practices.

As pioneers in reducing cannabis packaging, Green for Green uses collaborative efforts via cannabis enthusiasts, and establishes different sustainable practices throughout local dispensaries. Their current recycling program allows for a reuse network of cannabis containers. This method is modern and unique and requires less energy than traditional recycling. Through this proprietary process, cannabis containers have the ability to be reused multiple times. 

Green for Green is housed by a local Denver dispensary, The Joint. Hattie Marshall, General Manager of The Joint, talked about laws and trends withheld in the industry:  “Childproof containers are required for any product leaving the dispensary, and because of this, the marijuana industry produces a substantial amount of waste. We tried to order a sustainable container that is made out of bamboo for our flower, and the companies we reached out to have a 6 month to year waiting list for backorders, so we had to find another solution.”


She continued, “That solution was Green for Green located out of Boulder, CO. Both the customers and the employees value and appreciate the recycling program because most of the people interested in this industry care about the planet. Unfortunately, the only way the industry will be able to eliminate plastic containers is to vote for different laws. You don’t have to buy your alcohol in a childproof container, and I think eventually the laws will reflect the same for the marijuana industry.”

Marshall has a great point when noting that there are other products that have done serious harm that are sold in non-childproof containers. This includes tobacco, over-the-counter drugs, as well as all alcohol sales. 

Daniela Jane, brand ambassador at Lazercat, a dispensary that focuses on solventless concentrates, travels throughout the Greater Denver Area providing deals and educating about their products to numerous different dispensaries. 

Recycled Containers: https://www.bottlestore.com/blog/medical-marijuana-container-recycling-what-to-do-with-empty-weed-containers/

Daniela has noticed trends throughout the industry, and even called out the Joint for having their own noticeable recycling program right when you walk in the door. She continued, “This has been a big topic of conversations throughout all of the employers and self-owned businesses throughout the industry. I definitely see it moving in a more sustainable direction, but the fact that it is federally illegal and there are so many laws surrounding packaging standards – including very strict child-proofing laws –  restricts some of the capabilities of businesses. There is a lot of grey area surrounding some of the restrictions, but businesses need the initiatives and drive to move forward with sustainable practices and ideals.”

There are some that have taken steps to let sustainable practices  lead the way throughout their cannabis business. Sana Packaging designs and develops differentiated, sustainable and compliant packaging solutions for the cannabis industry using 100% plant-based hemp plastic, 100% reclaimed ocean plastic, and other sustainable materials.

Sana’s company morals illustrate a circular economic model where packaging is designed to help heal the environment. This Denver-based company believes that this economic model is restorative and regenerative by design, meant to build economic, natural, and social capital. 


These different substitutes for containers are found at a much higher price for business owners compared to plastic waste. This is truly an economic and societal dilemma that Sana’s Packaging is trying to fight. Many companies don’t have the money or resources to put into sustainable packaging. There can only be hope that the industry will pool its innovations so there is environmentally-sound and shared packaging for everyone. There needs to come a time when sustainable practices are valued over price by a business, just as much as for a consumer. 

The Cannabis Certification Council is a nonprofit industry leader and holding body focused on providing consumer and industry education, and transparency and choice in the industry. They focus  on three categories of the marijuana industry: clean cannabis, sustainable practices, and fair trade. Their clean cannabis initiative with #whatsinmyweed overall inspires consumers about the education, action, and demanding transparency from cannabis manufacturers and processors. 

The CCC is holding the fourth annual Denver Cannabis Sustainability Symposium on October 4th  intended to “ connect industry executives, advocates, scientists and thinkers together to envision a sustainable future for the cannabis industry – and provide decision-makers with the tools they need to make positive changes today.” The organizers – the Cannabis Sustainability Work Group –  pull experts from all around the country to present and advocate for the key environmental challenges and management practices dealing with sustainability in the marijuana industry. They cover topics such as energy efficiency, water management, and waste minimization [Higher]. 


This event will feature Sustainability Awards to truly showcase the top performing dispensaries in the Denver area. These practices and events are pushing for the transformation and advancement of sustainability throughout the cannabis industry. These practitioners are improving the crisis by giving action steps to directly help sustainability issues, as well as educating the mass public.

We as consumers, as well as business owners, need to take the moral high ground and relish in dispensaries and local businesses that have initiative programs highlighting their sustainability. If consumers could lead by example and begin to create a need for these products on the market, then a switch in the overall industry will begin to concur simultaneously. The economy is driven by demand, and we as consumers can push that demand in the right direction. 



Tips on recycling old marijuana containers: 


Cited Sources:

“HIGHER STANDARDS.” Cannabis Certification Council


“Plastic Pollution – Facts and Figures • Surfers Against Sewage.” Surfers              Against Sewagewww.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/.

“The Rise of Disposable Marijuana Vape Pens in California.” Caliva Partners, 7 June 2018, b2b.gocaliva.com/the-rise-of-disposable-marijuana-vape-pens-in-cal


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