Does Cannabis Have a Plastic Problem?

There you are, sipping your oat milk iced draft latte from your aluminum straw in your collapsible cup. You’re living your best VSCO girl life. It’s Friday, obviously, so you think to yourself; it’s time to go get some weed. So, you drive to a dispensary. When you’re there you pick an eighth, maybe it’s Blue Dream (let us live our basic lives!). You bring it to the cash informing your budtender that you brought your own canvas tote because, duh, you don’t want a plastic bag!

This is where your hopes and dreams of reducing your carbon footprint come to a grinding halt. The budtender regretfully informs you that in addition to the childproof plastic-cap packaging that makes it near impossible to get to your eighth, by law, they’re required to put it in concealed and sealed bags. Some of them, if not all of them, will be plastic. And, we hate to break it to you; most of them are non-recyclable.

Instead of smashing your collapsable cup to the ground while demanding to see a manager here’s why your weed comes in a lego fortress of packaging, what really is going to help reduce carbon footprints and why you need to vote.

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The law as it stands notes that packaging needs to be child-resistant (C-R), opaque and, if it’s an edible, concentrate, tincture or suppository it also needs to be a resealable C-R container or bag. Depending on what your product is, and the packaging you have, you could have 3 layers of thick, non-recyclable plastic. While it’s easy to blame companies, it’s easier to blame government and regulation. Write your senator and urge them to provide monetary incentives to companies who use sustainable packaging. Also, we see plenty of drugs and nicotine products without being child resistant, do we really need it for products like prerolls and flower which can only get the consumer high when smoked? Probably not.

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Plastic is the pollution you can see, but keeping carbon emissions low is just as critical to maintaining a thriving ecosystem. Yes, plastic breaking down in the ocean is a crisis and it needs to stop. But, recyclable plastic when disposed of properly has a better carbon footprint than glass. The problem arises when plastics are tossed into landfills and recycling centers break down. In one NPR report, paper and glass are shown to emit a higher overall footprint than some plastics. What does this mean? Every option is broken! This is not a defense of plastic, it means we need to find new materials, preferably compostable ones, because what we have isn’t working. 

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It’s a problem called wishcycling. You get a coffee from your local shop and it’s paper! It must be recyclable! So, you throw it into the blue bin. If it’s not recyclable (which, unless if it’s clearly labeled, it’s not), you just contaminated the system. A long list exists as to what’s recyclable but incase you need a refresher, see below.  Also, if you don’t clean and rinse your glass… it too is contaminated. Oh and unless your vape has a program… it too is probably not recyclable. 

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One of the biggest problems is solutions don’t readily exist. Large companies that have the capacity to invest and create solutions either stick to existing packaging while small companies don’t have the budget to research and develop new materials. This is a poke (aka OG DM) to all large companies reading this that the industry needs your help, it’ll be hard to harvest weed when there are nonstop hurricanes and forest fires. 

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What difference can individuals can make? For David Wallace-Wells it always goes back to politics;

“The way we relate to what we buy and how we consume, we’d all be people if we did that more responsibly but the impacts are so small… For a lot of people they distract from the real urgency of the need to take political action to vote in particular and organize beyond that.

We can get around to going vegan and stopping our flying …. but by far the most important thing to do is to get people into office that take this problem seriously… When I look around and I see people arguing about veganism, people arguing about what clothes you buy and plastic consumption… it’s so small that it often feels like a way to distract ourselves from the real problem; making us feel active when we actually are not all that active.”

— David Wallace-Wells on Still Processing by the NYT and author of “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

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As traumatic as it is watching straws getting ripped from turtle’s noses, when you look at the world’s plastic consumption, straws are the tip of the melting iceberg. You shouldn’t use straws that are single use plastic, correct. But the only way to incentivize large companies to move away from creating more plastic is by limited the fossil fuel industry which is also responsible for an ungodly amount of man-made emissions. In 2017 and 2018 for the first time in years, that number went up. Coincidence that e changed administrations? Since 99% of plastics are derived from chemicals found in fossil fuels, if you want to slow the demand, restrict the supply.

Here’s where you can check if you’re registered to vote and sign up