The cannabis industry has long been one to talk about sustainability when it comes to the use of natural resources in growing the flower. But in the packaging, not so much. Recently the environmental experts and activists have mentioned the importance of compostable packaging and how it helps to create a step towards a more sustainable society. If we convert our single use packaging into plant-based plastics that are compostable, all that garbage that would otherwise clog the landfills can literally return back to the soil whence it came – creating a more sustainable future and fertile soil.
In the case of mylar bags, these things are the bane of environmentalists.
More and more people are looking for ways to avoid consuming single use plastic products – nobody likes the idea of piling on plastic waste, that is ending up in landfills and oceans (or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, yuck).
There is a huge need for cannabis bags that are more eco-friendly. I’ll go over a few options in this blog post, part of a series. Check out the first post here, with 10 tricks to reduce cannabis packaging waste.
What are cannabis standup pouches and why do we need them?
These are the things that used to be ziploc baggies back in the day, in modern times replaced with thick, metallicized zipper bags, in many areas, they’re required to be child resistant zipper bags or opaque childproof exit bags.
These odor-proof bags are often a laminate of many layers: thick 4ml plastic, with a metallic layer that keeps in the moisture and terpenes, and locks things in, so they’re smell-proof.
Cannabis regulations for flower and edibles require child-safe packaging. That’s why these pouches are tear-proof, and have all kinds of mechanisms for children safe (thanks poison control act!). Multiple portions even require a recloseable childproof closure for compliance.
One of my design projects, Next Level Edibles, required the use of a recloseable childproof zipper bag due to strict California cannabis regulations around cannabis safety
Compostable vs biodegradable – what’s the difference?
Let’s get one thing straight: the terms “compostable” and “biodegradable” are not the same thing! In order to understand this what true compostability means, it’s important to first understand the difference between compostable and biodegradable plastics.
Compostable means it will break down relatively quickly, leaving behind only water and soil and goodness. There are certifications testing for compostability, and it needs to happen under relatively normal circumstances.
Biodegradable on the other hand is a more complex term, and it is commonly used in greenwashing claims in a misleading way. Biodegradable, when it comes to plastic, just means it will BREAK DOWN, or degrade. Regular plastic is technically biodegradable – it might take hundreds of years, but technically yes. The types of plastics that are called biodegradable plastics are created from a substance called polylactic acid. Sometimes these are sugarcane or corn derived, sometimes it’s added to normal plastic to speed up the degradation. What do you get when plastic degrades and breaks down? Often enough, a lot of microplastic. And that’s not a good thing.
This is not the same thing as compostability. Compostable material breaks down into nothing but carbon dioxide, water, and biomass, like paper. To be called compostable, plastic must also disintegrate and disappear – nothing but dirt left behind in a compost pile, leaving no trace of anything toxic behind.
Now you know! By using the correct terminology, calling compostable compost, and knowing what biodegradable means and doesn’t mean, it becomes easier to speak about about the earth-friendly plastic options available.
How to compost compostable plastics?
Compostables need to end up in compost if you want them to compost. If a compostable plastic product gets thrown into the trash, most people might think, oh well, it’ll break down eventually…but…well actually, no it won’t. Here’s why: compostable materials need moisture, oxygen, and a little bit of sunshine to actually compost. Most landfills are enclosed inside a big “bubble”, and thus the compostable product going into landfill defeats the purpose of creating and buying these fancy compostable plastics in the first place. So make sure to toss the compostables into the green bin for industrial composting facility (or your home compost, if marked home compostable!)
Side note: Are all bioplastics compostable?
Short answer? It depends. Some plastics made from plants are compostable. But many aren’t. So don’t go around thinking bioplastics are the same as compostable plastics – it’s so very confusing, I know! I’m sorry! Here trying to make things easy to understand, I swear. (They’re also not recyclable but that’s another story for another day).
Compostable cannabis bags basics and examples
Compostables are a great solution for single-use plastics. This can help the cannabis industry maintain sustainability by reducing the amount of trash. With bags, they need to be a very strong and flexible material. There are several companies making compostable single use “mylar” bags with different layers of material, typically different kinds of plant derived packaging materials, like corn based plastic, and paper based layers.
For some other products, and thinner flexible packaging and bags, there is such a thing as home compostable – but for cannabis-level sturdiness (think of the children!) they’re typically only compostable within an industrial facility. Similar thing to those compostable cups and forks you see.
The hard part is making the material strong enough to hold up for child resistance testing, and hold up well in storage (so that it doesn’t start composting too soon!), but then also making it break down eventually.
The zipper has long been the hard part, but now there are materials where the bag and the zipper can be made compostable! Hooray!
Example project: Green Bee Botanicals sample packaging
What we did: compostable flexible bags, in a heat seal pouch. Single use child-resistant, due to them being samples only. Extra cred for using pouches with compostable label stock, and compostable glue in the labels. Inside are tiny little glass vials of the product.
100% compostable sample size packaging for California cannabis brand
Example project: listo distribution trade sample packaging
What we did: for this one we considered compostables, but ended up going with a monomaterial recyclable pouch instead (another story for another time!). Recloseable child resistant compostable bags are only coming to market now, so at the time, this was the best option. We added a note on the bag for “please recycle this bag”.
Stand up zipper pouch design
Well, now you have all the information you will need with this list of all the cannabis packaging sustainability resources you’ll need to become a savvy conscious consumer.
Comment below with any questions, comments, or feedback!
What else would you like to see covered in this cannabis packaging series?