Cannabis Sustainability: Recycling Programs

Just because cannabis is green, that doesn’t mean the industry is too. Not only does the industry use a staggering amount of energy, but it also produces a lot of waste. But the issue of cannabis sustainability requires a more nuanced conversation than many realize.

Much of the waste produced by the cannabis industry comes in the form of single-use plastic; which more often than naught is the result of heavy-handed regulation that requires producers to package their products in durable child-proof containers, non-resealable bags, and gobs of plastic wrap. 

However, the biggest culprit in cannabis waste comes not from single-use plastic, but rather from vaporizer (vape) products. A common misconception about vape products is that they are better for the environment because they are made from recyclable materials, but you would be surprised. 

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The Problem With Recycling Vaporizers

One of the things that make vaporizers difficult to recycle is the battery. Most vaporizers are built with lithium-ion batteries. Although you can easily dispose of or recycle single-use alkaline batteries, lithium-ion batteries are a different story. Not only is lithium itself a highly reactive element, but these kinds of batteries contain a flammable electrolyte and pressurized contents that are combustible. Remember when vape pens started erupting into flames on airplanes? 

Consequently, you can’t just throw your old vape in the trash or recycling bin. Instead, you’ll have to take it to a hazardous waste facility for recycling. Another impediment to recycling cannabis vapes is the cartridge itself. More often than naught these cartridges are held together with glues or polyresins, which make it difficult to recycle. 

Because recycling vaporizers can be difficult, most people are content to toss their old vapes in the trash and let someone else think about the consequences. This is the wrong mindset for both consumers and cannabis brands. 

So what can you do to cut down on cannabis waste? The answer is to offer a cannabis recycling program!

Types of Cannabis Recycling Programs

When it comes to cannabis waste solutions, there are a number of things you can do to incentivize your customers to recycle. Here are a few types of cannabis recycling programs you can offer:

Collection Points – This is probably one of the simplest cannabis recycling program you can provide. Simply designate a place where people can take their cannabis waste for collection. If you’re a cannabis dispensary, you can use your store. If you are a cannabis brand, try looking for a dispensary to partner with. The only catch to this type of program is that local regulations might prevent this. In some U.S. states, only specifically licensed companies are permitted to collect cannabis waste. Check your local and state regulations before enacting this cannabis recycling program.

Postage-Free Returns – If you are a brand, a great way to encourage cannabis recycling is by offering postage-free returns of cannabis waste. This simple solution is excellent for people that may not necessarily want to make an effort to find a collection point. It is also great for producers of vape products because it can be more difficult for consumers to recycle vaporizers or their cartridges.

Free Swag – As much as we’d like to pretend that everyone that uses cannabis wants to recycle, it’s simply not true. Some people may not see the inherent value in recycling, while others might be too lazy to make the effort. If you find that your cannabis recycling program isn’t working quite as well as you want, one solution might be to offer free swag as an incentive. Most state cannabis laws will prevent you from giving away cannabis in exchange for recyclable materials, but there are no laws preventing you from giving away free T-shirts or any other kind merchandise. 

Issues That Prevent Cannabis Recycling

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you will still run into some problems with your cannabis recycling program. This is especially true if you produce vaporizers. Even if you ignore the issue of batteries, sometimes state laws get in the way. For example, under Colorado state law, licensed cannabis companies are prevented from touching open or used remnants of cannabis products, even as a recycling collection point. 

This means that it is up to consumers to drop off their used vape products at hazardous waste facilities, but even then, it might not be enough. Because of the disconnect between state and federal cannabis laws, some recycling facilities might be reticent to accept cannabis waste. In the case of cannabis vaporizers, it has to do with the fact that every used cartridge contains trace amounts of cannabis extract. 

That little bit of cannabis left over in the cartridge is enough to put the recycling plant into a legally gray area, and while most are still accommodating, some recycling service providers would rather skip the headache and reject your used vape cartridges out of hand.

Other Cannabis Recycling Solutions

Besides offering a recycling program, there other things you can do to cut down on cannabis waste. Here are just a few: 

Eco-Friendly Design – As a cannabis brand, one of the most important things you can do to cut down on cannabis waste is to integrate eco-friendly design into your cannabis products. If you make vape products, design cartridges made of only glass and ceramic. By avoiding glues or resins, cartridges become that much easier to recycle. If you have to use a lot of plastic in your cannabis products, think about integrating bioplastics into your design. Hemp bioplastic, for example, is both biodegradable and easily recycled. 

Educate Customers – Whether you’re a cannabis dispensary or brand, one of the simplest cannabis waste solutions is to educate your customers. For the most part, people want to do the right thing, so point them in the right direction! One company that’s great at educating their customers on the importance of cannabis recycling is Karing Kind Labs. Not only does Karing Kind offer educational materials on cannabis recycling, but they also tell their customers where they can take their cannabis waste as well. Recycling cannabis waste is not always easy, but at the very least you can make it easier for your customers.

Lobby Lawmakers – If state and local regulations are standing in the way of implementing a successful cannabis recycling program, then the best thing for you to do is lobby lawmakers. When lawmakers are passing cannabis-related legislation, recycling is the last thing on their mind. Typically, they are thinking about preventing illegal diversion and keeping cannabis out of the hands of children. If you can draw their attention to the issue, most legislators will be willing to meet you halfway. A great example of a cannabis company lobbying state governments is one of Wick & Mortar’s clients, ZoZ Cannabis in Washington. They commissioned our team to create sustainable packaging that is the centerpiece of the recycling program that ZoZ is petitioning the state the create. 

Cannabis is green, but sadly the industry is not. Between stifling regulations and the disconnect between state and federal law, it can be hard for brands and consumers to successfully implement and participate in cannabis recycling programs. However, it is not impossible. With a hard work, education, and maybe a little lobbying; your cannabis brand can help clean up the industry and make the future a bit brighter!

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