Cannabis’ Plastic Waste Problem

How Sana Packaging Is Reversing the Trend


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Plastic. The word alone evokes a feeling of artificial emptiness nowadays — it’s associated with things like coral bleaching, toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases. Currently, more than 150 million tons of plastic exists in the ocean and, according to the most recent national data available from the Environmental Protection Agency, America generated 262.4 million tons of waste in 2015 alone — that averages out to about five pounds of waste per person every day.

Since the beginning of the Green Rush, companies have been scrambling to get their cannabis operations online and profitable to keep up with the ever-growing competition that has emerged in one of the fastest growing industries on earth. These businesses have had to make production, sales and marketing decisions based on costs and margins, as well as what state regulations mandate. Plastic waste is an inevitable end result.

In an industry that champions itself as green, the race to become rich quick has led to many companies going to China for cheap hardware and plastics for things like containers, tubes, bags, cartridges and batteries. And because of the rapidly changing restrictions and laws within each state, companies are being forced to comply with new childproof packaging regulations that have made it even more difficult to source affordable and eco-friendly materials.

For decades, we’ve also been sending the majority of our recycling to China to be made into goods such as shoes, bags and new plastic products. But just last year, China restricted the imports of most plastics and other recyclables; this action, along with the dramatic increase in demand for cannabis products in recreational states, has led to an alarming scenario for our planet’s future. Six states with legalized recreational cannabis are coastal states — seven counting Michigan, which borders four of the five Great Lakes — and with plastic waste skyrocketing at an all-time high, it begs the question: Where do all those joint tubes and exit bags end up?

Enter Sana Packaging, an American startup that designs and develops sustainable, compliant packaging solutions for the cannabis industry using 100 percent chemical-free, plant-based hemp plastic and 100 percent reclaimed ocean plastic.

Sana Packaging - Reclaimed Ocean Plastic Tube“Six states with legalized recreational cannabis are coastal states — seven counting Michigan, which borders four of the five Great Lakes — and with plastic waste skyrocketing at an all-time high, it begs the question: Where do all those joint tubes and exit bags end up?”

“Packaging should be regenerative and help heal the environment throughout its lifecycle. About 50 percent of the plastics we create are for disposable products like packaging. Packaging also accounts for 30 percent of our waste and typically becomes trash within a single year of production. Reusability is what we need most right now,” says co-founder and CSO James Eichner. The word “sustainability” gets tossed around frequently these days, but for Sana Packaging it’s about “full-scale sustainability,” says Eichner. “We need to have an understanding of biodegradability,” he continues. “Where is [it] going? What is [it] made of? How long will it take to degrade? We need to start thinking about responsible waste.”

The 2018 Farm Bill, also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, now allows cultivators in all 50 states to legally grow and process hemp. By doing so, it gives farmers a chance to grow hemp for CBD and also allows for the plants’ waste material to be manufactured into other goods like clothing and Sana’s packaging. Prior to the bill, Sana used pilot programs to cultivate hemp with state-funded colleges and university programs. Now, they can localize cultivators and use biomass from each state, where they can then find more affordable, eco-friendly alternatives for manufacturing than overseas plastic. “We don’t want to add to the global issue by ordering materials from overseas. Think about it. Not only are we compounding the problem by ordering new plastic from another country, look at the other waste we create as we burn hundreds of gallons of fuel to ship this stuff over here,” says Ron Basak-Smith, Sana’s CEO and co-founder.

To combat the burning of additional fossil fuels and increase in microplastic and plastic waste, Sana decided to partner with Oceanworks, an online marketplace created to connect the business community with verified sources of ocean plastic material collected around the world. Members actively work together to remove two million tons of ocean plastic and transform this material into sustainable products; the materials Sana uses are currently being sourced from Haiti. Natural disasters have turned the island nation into an environmental disaster, with the sea serving as its primary repository for garbage and waste.

Sana Packaging recently shipped their first orders of 100 percent reclaimed ocean plastic packaging to customers across North America and is looking for new cannabis companies to help support this initiative. “We’re really excited about our new product line,” Basak-Smith says. “With the help of our customers, our first run of reclaimed ocean plastic cannabis packaging removed four tons of plastic waste from our oceans. We’re excited to see how much plastic waste we can continue to remove from our oceans moving forward. And, of course, none of this would be possible without the folks over at Oceanworks.”

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