Is Cannabis As Green as It Can Be: What's The Industry's Environmental Impact?


A strange assumption held by many cannabis consumers is that cannabis production is somehow greener, more environmentally friendly and sustainable, than other crops. It isn’t, and because it isn’t federally legal, the USDA can’t certify organic cannabis farms, which would provide a visible and well-understood label for ethical consumers.

Yet, like Keurig coffee pods, disposable water bottles and plastic straws, cannabis packaging and vape-related waste is beginning to attract more attention of environmentalists and environmentally-conscious consumers alike.

While that’s not surprising given cannabis' surging popularity, no one wants to see industry growth hindered or environmental responsibility unfulfilled. So, what’s a caring, environmentally conscious cannabis brand to do?

Even in this environmentally conscious industry, helping customers recycle vape cartridges, batteries and disposables isn’t as easy as it could be. And, on both sides of the border, the regulations around keeping cannabis away from kids means excessive packaging that can take a toll on both profits and the environment as well.

Practically every cannabis product comes in a plastic package, whether it’s a vape cartridge, liquid drops, wax, or just plain ol’ buds. Packaging cannabis, by its very nature, is wasteful, as containers can range from four to ten times the weight of the products they contain. Sustainability shortcuts like buying in bulk isn’t an option, either. Family-sized value bags of pot-laden peanut butter cups don’t exist due to laws that restrict THC amounts in each package.

One consumer recently told CBC, a single gram of weed came with 70 grams of plastic, foil, and packaging. That’s because even a single gram has to be in a child-resistant package e.g. a bottle similar to what would be used for ibuprofen, and that bottle is often packaged in a box. If the cannabis is coming in the mail, there’s even more packaging.

The solution to this problem, as for many of the other problems facing a brand-new and complex industry like cannabis, will probably come in time. Maybe you’ll buy cannabis in bulk, and bring your own reusable container to the store like we now do with reusable bags. Dosist, which makes vape pens, offers a recycling program that gives a discount on future products for bringing in a used one.

But for now, be careful what you buy. You’re going to have to throw some of it out.

Read more about Canada's and the U.S.'s packaging rules on Vice.