In the rush to get cannabis from farms to buyers, the environment is really taking third or fourth chair, and the cannabis community could be dropping the ball on a major opportunity to hold companies accountable for the ecological impact of their products.
Though it’s no surprise that local governments pushed for plastics and other child-proof materials to guard cannabis, we should be very weary in the long term.
When you compare the amount of waste now required in the cannabis supply chain to that of similar intoxicants, the results can be very surprising. Alcohol, which is dramatically more dangerous to not only children, but to everyone, is so easy to access, both in a shop and for a kid at home.
Comparing consumption methods is important if you want to be a conscientious cannabis customer, so we will lay out the complications of each method. Nothing is perfect.
Starting with the most common cannabis offering, flower is a raw and minimally processed product that has to make its way to you. This means farming supplies, transportation from the farm to shop and any packaging materials used in the process, including state-mandated exit bags.
When purchased the old-fashioned way or home-grown, flower can be among the least polluting ways to consume cannabis. Another thing to consider is the light energy used to grow anything indoors. Indoor cannabis is pretty much an institution at this point, and although it’s a bit obvious that cannabis grown with electrical lighting uses more energy than sun-grown cannabis, some argue that the pollution and habitat damage caused by some grows is more harmful to the environment overall.
Flower can be the greenest method, both literally and figuratively, but it often brings plastics and transportation impacts that aren’t ideal. Down the road, cannabis could be grown locally, when things are fully legal, but for now we have a wider network requiring fossil fuels.
Buddy is a one-hitter that raises the standard of the reusable pipe. The company’s founder, Sara Hussain, is an advocate for the decriminalization of cannabis, and she has strong opinions on how we should be taking our THC. She told The Emerald Magazine, “Plant to people is the most ecologically responsible way to consume, with combustibles, edibles and dabs leading the way. The most eco-friendly thing would be to allow consumers to grow their own, bypassing the waste produced by large-scale farming.”
On their surface, concentrates seem to be earth-friendly, provided they come in a reusable container or on a tiny slip of parchment, but there are some things to consider. First, the flower used requires production, which has some impact (no matter how “clean” a process), in terms of either energy usage or transportation usage. Now add in lab processing, which can use chemicals that aren’t exactly earth-friendly.
A lot of similar concepts go into the idea of processing cannabis into edibles. Although making a batch of brownies isn’t necessarily harmful to the environment, it also isn’t carbon neutral. All of the energy spent creating the cannabis is then added cumulatively to the energy and packaging that are used to produce a market-ready edible. Depending on how it’s made, this may be minimal, but if concentrates are used, this is a triplicate process, and each bit of energy used compounds into the final green tally.
Out of all of the vapewear, disposable vapes are the worst offenders. From the body to the battery, this just isn’t recyclable. Even when it’s just the cartridge, batteries eventually die, and empty carts are a definite source of pollution that will only get exponentially worse as more states legalize recreational cannabis. Another consideration is the cost to produce and process the raw cannabis.
Hussain created her specialized one-hitter to reinvigorate a devotion to raw flower, as vapes are not positive ways to partake, in her opinion. She said, “Disposable vapes offer the same cruel convenience as plastic straws, but I haven’t heard of any crusades to save turtles from choking on old Beboes or Dom pens.”
Hussain continued, “They are the K-Cups of cannabis. You can’t re-use them, and you can’t recycle them. Introducing any type of disposable product into the stream of commerce without offering solutions on what to do with them once they’ve served their purpose is irresponsible.”
Topicals are one of the more mysterious methods, with CBD working for some, while others need THC to knock out pain or skin conditions. They can often come in reduced-harm packaging, like recyclable metal tins or cardboard tubes, but again the issue is in how the initial flower or concentrate is grown.
Pressuring cannabis and packaging companies to innovate is one way to improve the situation, and holding elected officials accountable is another. Many think of cannabis as a harmful substance, or pander to constituents who think so. It’s on us to educate them.
Sava is a cannabis-delivery service. Its co-founder and chief marketing officer, Amanda Denz, says ecological cannabis consideration is about more than going for one category over the other and that multiple factors are at play. She told the Emerald, “Choosing a product type is not the right way to make the decision about what is most eco-friendly. For example, a well-made tincture packaged in a glass jar that originated as sun-grown cannabis from a farm with earth-friendly growing practices is going to be better for the earth than indoor flower packaged in plastic. Overall, consumers should look for clues that indicate how conscientious a specific brand is throughout their supply chain.”
When consumers have a sharper eye for what is not eco-friendly, the companies will be forced to innovate and adapt. Denz advised, “Look for sun-grown flower. Look for brands that mention the growing practices of their flower and describe using earth-friendly practices. Certified Clean Green is one of the high standards flower can meet, but getting that certification can be cost-prohibitive for some smaller farms. For non-flower products, look for those packaged in glass (instead of plastic), recyclable or compostable packaging.”
Buddy’s Hussain drove the point home. “Across the board, consumers are finally waking up to the sobering reality of single-use plastics. We are being mindful of taking reusable bags to the store, switching to cloth towels in the kitchen and toting around reusable cups and utensils. Why should enjoying cannabis be any different?”
Until we get some movement on all of this actual garbage, decide how much you really want to contribute to the growing plastic islands in the Pacific, or whether your grandchildren having clean drinking water matters when put up against your cannabis habit. As beneficial as legalization is to many human causes, the packaging problem could accelerate one of the most pressing problems: pending ecological disaster. ■