Two things are happening simultaneously in a lot of states: Regulations on single-use plastics are becoming more strict, and recreational cannabis is becoming legal.
Those two might seem unrelated, until you think about what comes with cannabis dispensaries and what that means for single-use plastics. Under many states’ rules about how cannabis can be packaged and sold, single-use plastic is the only real option. So, it creates a sort of paradox for those states: Limit single-use plastics one way, but then directly increase their usage in another.
“Unfortunately, many state packaging requirements lead to a lot of single-use plastics within the industry,” Jed McWhorter, director of purchasing for cannabis company Curaleaf, told Healthline. “For example, many states require child-resistant packaging, which requires an additional layer of plastic packaging across the supply chain.”
Looking at California as an example, packaging must be child-proof—at least 4 millimeters thick and heat-sealed; resealable via either a lid or adhesive seal; and include tamper-evident packaging, like a plastic seal or sticker when opened.
New Jersey is a further example of a state that’s going to have to handle an influx of single-use plastics through the eventual opening of dispensaries. The state passed the nation’s strictest legislation on single-use plastics (and even paper products) almost at the same time that it voted to legalize recreational cannabis. The stores and restaurants are going to limit their plastic use, but once dispensaries open, it’s going to be hard for them to use anything but single-use plastics.
There are options, but for most of these new businesses, they won’t be the most cost-efficient.
Healthline gave some details about a company called Oceanworks, which takes plastic from the ocean and repurposes it as packaging. The problem is that each container of plastic from Oceanworks would cost 27 cents, “while boilerplate plastic packaging from China costs pennies apiece.”
If a state allows single-use plastics for cannabis packaging, a lot of businesses are going to go that route. Especially since most states will have strict rules about safety in the packaging, and in this case the safer option—single-use packaging—is also the most cost-effective. There will obviously be exceptions to this rule, but overall, you can probably expect single-use plastics to be overwhelmingly the first choice within the cannabis market.
Different states have different regulations, of course, so distributors who might be looking to get into the cannabis market as it continues to grow will need to keep up with double standards and varying regulations from state to state.