The world of legal cannabis is growing larger with each day, but so is its waste problem.
For many years, sandwich bags and plastic wrap comprised a large portion of cannabis product waste, but times have changed.
In addition to the considerable amounts of energy required to produce cannabis indoors on a commercial scale, the amount of waste that the industry now generates in various forms is massive.
Dealing with Leftovers
Cannabis waste, which can include solvents, leftover biomass, and extra packaging, has become a real problem in a period of increasing cannabis legalization and normalization.
According to a CBC report, one gram of cannabis flower from a Canadian shop can produce 70 grams of packaging waste.
Composting, incineration, and landfills are a few of the disposal avenues for biomass, but other forms of waste like solvents and vape pens can require more complex methods.
Because vape pens and cartridges are comprised of different materials, some in small quantities, there is a current lack of ability to recycle them via traditional recycling facilities.
New Jersey-based TerraCycle has a recycling program in the form of its Cannabis Vapes Zero Waste Box, though it is currently only available in Canada.
According to Project CBD, cannabis waste problems stem from the legacy of criminalization which has manifested as unnecessary overregulation.
Consumer Habits Change with the Times
Colorado-based Spherex’s Vice President of Sales Mark Keys says that regulations and lack of recycling options may be playing a role in consumers changing their buying habits.
“Since it is not compliant for a consumer to enter a dispensary with a THC cartridge that was previously purchased at a dispensary, it is difficult to offer recycling programs for these products currently,” says Keys. “This is another reason why consumers may be shifting away from them.”
A Marijuana Business Daily report from February shows that sales of vape pens increased from $1.5B in 2019 to $1.8B, though the market share dropped from 22.3 percent to 19.1 percent during the same time.
The numbers show the cannabis vape pen market sector growing at half the pace of overall cannabis product sales.
But as vape pen sales have slowed, Keys says that Spherex has seen an increased demand for cartridges over the last six months, especially following “Vapegate” and COVID.
“The majority of the disposable market was dependent on consumers who wanted a small-dosage vape pen without the additional battery purchase, the demand for which has been affected by the lack of tourism to Colorado due to COVID restrictions,” says Keys. “Additionally, disposables were a great option for events and weekend gatherings, and since these activities were limited, that also affected demand for disposables. Over the last year, there has been more demand for a higher volume of distillate per unit, instead, which Spherex fulfilled by adding one gram cartridges to its portfolio this year.”
Keys says that disposable vapes are also becoming less popular in Colorado due to the minimal volume in each unit, in addition to the current lack of recyclability.
“Consumers are leaning toward the most volume for their dollar in each product,” says Keys. “Resulting in an increased demand for 1,000mg cartridges.”
Take Action, Get Results
With cannabis waste being a clear and present issue that needs addressing, Keys says that there are steps that companies can take to operate more sustainably.
“Companies should continue to source eco-friendly products and packaging that are recyclable, as options will hopefully begin to expand for consumers and sustainability becomes more of a brand differentiator,” says Keys. “With an industry that demands use of compliant and child-safe packaging, companies should also look into sourcing plastic alternatives for their products.”
Keys says that all Spherex products undergo rigorous testing by third-party labs to ensure that they meet and exceed state requirements.
Spherex also uses the highest quality hardware from CCell to ensure there are no heavy metals in its products.
Keys says that cannabis companies should look for sustainable alternatives that can still meet regulatory requirements.
“Eco-friendly, recyclable packaging is the easiest transition for cannabis companies to pursue,” says Keys. “Based on industry regulations, we are required to use hardware and packaging that meet certain specifications. Some of Spherex’s packaging, PAX, in particular, utilizes wind technology for manufacturing. As many industries begin to shift toward a more sustainable way of operating, there are plenty of opportunities for businesses to explore how they can reduce their carbon footprint.”
Excellent story good perspective