Whenever anyone buys legal weed at a licensed pot shop, their products are packaged in plastic. Whether it’s bottles, boxes, syringes, vape carts, or products wrapped in plastic, these packages ultimately end up in landfills, which contribute to a whole host of environmental problems.
Now, a dispensary owner in Washington State, who manages Canna West Seattle and Canna Culture Shop, believes she has a solution: Start a recycling program for weed packaging, where consumers can return their plastic waste at the very same place they purchased it.
"It is estimated that by the year 2020, there will be over one billion pieces of cannabis packaging created in the cannabis industry every year," said Maryam Mirnateghi, the owner of the two aforementioned dispensaries, to a local NBC News affiliate.
"Sometimes it’s hard to know which items can go in which categories, so we just wanted to make it really easy for people,” she continued. “We are really hoping to create a better connection between the cannabis industry and the environment in general."
Currently, the world produces 300 million tons of plastic per year, according to Plastic Oceans International. Half of that plastic waste comes from single-use products, like empty vape pen cartridges or those nearly-impossible-to-open child-proof edibles boxes. And with America’s legal weed industry selling $9 billion worth of product in 2018 alone, those plastic waste numbers are only on the incline.
In fact, Washington State has built-up so much plastic waste from weed products that it started clogging the state’s waterways.
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“It's disturbing,” said Steve D’Angelo, the founder of the famed California dispensary Harborside, to MERRY JANE earlier this year. “It's repugnant to the values that cannabis teaches us.”
The legal cannabis industry isn’t unique when it comes to producing plastic pollution. Other legit industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry, produce just as much — if not more — plastic garbage. But unlike pharmaceuticals, weed products don’t get the same equal treatment.
For instance, Colorado has tried — and failed — to implement recycling programs for cannabis packaging. Those programs didn’t collapse because of consumer disinterest; rather, they collapsed because there are no recycling centers in Colorado that will take weed packaging. Recycling centers in the Centennial State follow federal regulations, and if there’s any THC in the donated packages, the centers consider those products to be drug contraband, which they’re not allowed to take due to federal prohibition.
There are other issues, too. Cannabis companies have experimented with biodegradable materials, namely paper and cardboard, to package cannabis products, but paper and cardboard aren’t ideal. For one, they’re not child or smell-proof. Secondly, paper packaging doesn’t protect the products inside from oxidation or other environmental stresses, so the weed products in cardboard end up having much shorter shelf lives.
"The response to the program has been fantastic,” Mirnateghi said. “We have only been doing this for a few days now and already we’ve captured a lot of recyclable materials and a lot of attention. I think we’ve collected enough recyclables to fill a small closet.”
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