Canadian Pot Shop Is Buying Back Used Weed Packaging to Help Reduce Waste
Childproof packaging requirements for legal weed products create a lot of waste, but some companies are brainstorming more environmentally-sound solutions.
Published on November 18, 2021

Plastic waste is a serious issue for the legal cannabis industry, but one pot shop in Canada has come up with a plan to help stem the tide of nonrecyclable trash.

The Niagara Herbalist, an independently-owned adult-use dispensary in St. Catharines, Ontario, just launched a buyback program for used weed packaging. The store now offers customers a store credit of 10 Canadian cents for glass jars or bottles, and 5 cents for recyclable weed packaging, including plastic pre-roll or vape containers and other plastic and cardboard material. 

“Cannabis packaging is a problem,” said Niagara Herbalist co-owner Kevin Trethowan to MJBizDaily. “Right from day one, there’s been so much of it... The problem is that so many of the products in the cannabis industry, not all of them are recyclable. Some of the plastics may look like they can be recycled, but they can’t.”

Trethowan explained that customers end up tossing all plastic weed packaging “into their recycling bin, and when they get to the facility for sorting, you have tons of products which can’t be recycled.” Having to re-sort products to separate recyclable and nonrecyclable plastics adds a lot of time and cost for recycling services, “and all of the containers that can’t be recycled go into a landfill.”

To help stop these products from ending up in landfills, the store has begun accepting nonrecyclable plastic cannabis containers and trying to find ways to repurpose them. The new program, which took more than a year to fully implement, was developed with the assistance of Niagara College’s Environmental Management and Assessment program.

Health Canada keeps extensive records of the country's legal weed production, sales, and use, but does not track the amount of plastic being used to package these products. Independent analyses have estimated that Canada's legal pot industry uses more than 10,000 tons of plastic packaging, though, and a lot of that plastic ends up in the trash.

Although most legal weed producers would prefer to offer more environmentally-friendly solutions, Canada's adult-use law requires that every legal weed product be placed in an individual childproof package. To comply with these regulations, cannabis products are sold in thick, plastic packaging, and most are also boxed in a second layer of cardboard. Thousands of Canadians have petitioned the government to either create a recycling solution or relax their packaging rules, but officials have yet to implement any serious changes.

Canada is not alone in its cannabis waste problem. Every US adult-use state has its own laws mandating childproof packaging, and many businesses end up using nonrecyclable plastic containers in order to save money. The US legal weed industry reportedly produces about 150 million tons of waste every year, and few states have stepped up to resolve this serious issue. New York lawmakers have proposed a new bill that would mandate recycling solutions for the state’s new adult-use market, but it remains to be seen whether this proposal will ever become law. 

Meanwhile, some companies are attempting to solve the problem by creating cannabis packaging from cannabis itself. A Denver-based company is using industrial hemp to create renewable bioplastics, compostable alternatives to plastic weed packaging, and other companies will hopefully follow suit.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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