Cannabis is known by many names and forms – marijuana, hashish, kief, or tinctures. It is one of the most popular recreational substances globally, only slightly behind other recreational substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. In fact, it is estimated that over 100 million Americans have tried cannabis.
Recently, cannabis has a more practical use than just for fun. More and more physicians have recommended cannabis as a prescribed herbal therapy. Doctor-prescribed medical cannabis is used to treat ailments and discomforts such as chemotherapy-induced nausea, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. In fact, dronabinol and nabilone, two cannabis extracts, are approved by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA)
The advent and increasing popularity of medical cannabis mean that a lot of people will be buying them. Unfortunately, cannabis is often placed in plastic containers and bags made specifically for holding such material. This translates to more waste materials to deal with.
The Challenge of Recycling Cannabis Packaging
According to shocking waste generation and recycling statistics, the US generates thrice as much waste as the global average. However, only a third of the waste generated goes into a recycling process. That’s a lot of waste materials ending up in the landfill.
The use of packaging materials for medical cannabis produces a challenging problem. You see, to ensure accidental consumption or to protect people from using the product without a prescription; federal law requires medical cannabis to be packed by licensed producers. These producers should follow very stringent packaging and labeling requirements as per legal stipulations.
According to the Federal Cannabis Act, cannabis packaging should be:
- semi-transparent or opaque
- child-proof and tamper-evident
- moisture-proof to prevent the cannabis from becoming wet or contaminated
These requirements make it difficult to use biodegradable materials that can fulfill cannabis packaging requirements. Some companies attempt to make or use biodegradable containers, but these are, by far, few because of federal regulations. For now, it seems that certified plastic containers, glass containers, and resealable foil-lined packs are the only containers that satisfy the above criteria.
On another note, many companies often accept used or empty containers for recycling. For example, manufacturers of CFL bulbs often provide mail-back services so customers can send them burned-out bulbs for proper recycling. There are also zero-waste businesses wherein the customer will bring their own container and purchase a refill. In both cases, there is a degree of control over waste management.
Unfortunately, these practices do not apply to medical cannabis containers, although they are technically recyclable. That’s because federal regulations require cannabis products to be sealed with an excise stamp. Thus, manufacturers of cannabis usually do not accept reusing or refilling used containers.
How to Recycle Cannabis Packaging
Fortunately, cannabis containers are often made of recyclable plastics, usually from Plastic Codes 1 to 4. That means you can actually reuse them yourself. Here are some helpful pointers on cannabis package recycling to help keep the environment pristine:
- Before repurposing any cannabis packaging, thoroughly wash the packaging with lots of water and detergent. Doing so will remove any cannabis residue lingering on the containers. Remove the label as well; this can be done by soaking the packaging in hot water.
- Use your ingenuity to reuse containers. Small plastic tubs can store small items such as loose change, nails, screws, paper clips, and craft supplies. They can also be used as seed starters; drill a few holes at the bottom so excess water can drain out.
- Some cannabis products, particularly ground ones, are placed in re-sealable foil-lined pouches. Once empty, wash the pouches as per our first tip. Use the pouch to store stuff that you don’t want to get wet such as mobile phones, batteries, paper money, and important documents. The seal prevents any moisture from seeping through.
- Cannabis tinctures and oils often come in small bottles. Once empty, rinse them thoroughly and reuse them as containers for liquid stuff such as hobby paints, watercolors, dyes, and more. Some come with droppers, making them ideal if you want to extract measured amounts of liquid from the bottle.
- In many cases, cannabis products are often placed in cardboard boxes. Use these cardboard boxes for crafts and storage of small stuff lying around in your home.
If you can’t find a way to reuse your cannabis packaging materials and containers in your home, you might want to opt for disposal. However, before doing so, you might want to check if there are entities that accept cannabis waste recycling and your government’s rules in disposing of such materials. Here are some tips on how to do those:
- Check your local government to see if they have regulations regarding cannabis plastic waste recycling and disposal.
- Check local facilities or recycling plants if they accept cannabis plastic waste for recycling. Be aware that most won’t believe in adherence to federal regulations. However, dispensaries that accept such packaging for some other purposes do exist. If so, it’s important to give them a call and let them know that you want to dispose of cannabis packaging. Otherwise, your waste material will end up in the landfill.
- Some organizations specialize in recycling, reusing, or repurposing non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle waste materials. Terracycle, for instance, accepts cannabis packaging from licensed producers. In addition, startup companies such as Green for Green in Colorado are finding ways to develop cannabis container reuse.
- There are specialist waste management businesses that can take care of specialized waste materials such as hazardous substances and cannabis packaging. Scour your area to see if there are such service providers in your area.
Used cannabis packaging materials are some of the most challenging waste products to manage due to laws covering the use of such materials and the nature of the packaging itself. If you are using doctor-prescribed cannabis products, take heed of the tips above so you can help curb this waste problem.
Lillian Connors is a Senior Content Developer at ACT-ENVIRO, with years of experience in developing content.
Throughout her career, she always looked for ways to contribute to the environment in recycling efforts while providing valuable information with her written articles.
She’s deeply into green practices, cherishing the notion that sustainability not only makes us far less dependent on others regarding how we live and do business but also contributes to our planet being a better place to live on. When she is not trying to improve the things around her (and herself, for that matter), she likes to lose herself in a good book and sip on an occasional appletini.