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The Plastic Problem – Conscious Consumption & Retail Cannabis

By Kit Ryn Foreman

Over 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year — and half of it is single-use. Of those 300 million tons, over 8 million tons are dumped into our oceans. Every week, the average human consumes approximately one credit card’s worth of plastic due to plastic breakdown in the ocean – plastics break down into microplastics, which find our way into our water and our food. Former EPA Admin Judith Enck estimates that the United States now recycles less than 5% of its plastics.

Of all that plastic, nearly half of it is used for packaging. Food packaging, drink packaging, packaging for all sorts of consumable items… including cannabis.

In the cannabis industry, packaging regulations vary from state to state — in Oregon, cannabis must be packaged in tamper-evident, child-resistant, resealable containers… or must be placed in a resealable and child-resistant exit package (ORS 845-025-7020). These plastics do not have to be “virgin” plastics, they can be recycled, but recycled plastic packaging leads to higher material costs — which makes its way to the customer in the form of higher prices.

There are some companies that are at the forefront of change in the cannabis industry:

Sana Packaging makes both hemp packaging and ocean-harvested packaging (meaning packaging made from plastics harvested from the ocean).

The Ocean Cannabis Company, a California-based company, also uses ocean-harvested plastic for their packaging of other products.

SunGrown Packaging uses a tab-locking cardboard system, similar to what our customers may see in our PAX cartridge packaging.

A company called ReStalk recycles and repurposes organic cannabis waste into paper.

Additionally, aluminum is significantly more recyclable than plastic; 75% of all the aluminum ever made is still in circulation. As a result, some cannabis companies are moving towards aluminum packaging as a replacement for plastic.

The bottom line is this: the laws that govern the packaging of cannabis increase the need for plastic use and, consequently, increase our plastic waste as a company and your plastic waste as a customer. The packaging laws surrounding cannabis are significantly more complex than the laws governing alcohol packaging, and they contribute significantly to the sheer amount of plastic use in the cannabis industry.

As a company, Substance has made strides toward reducing our carbon footprint. We avoid the use of pop-top containers for cannabis flower because they are made with petro-chemicals and, due to being big and bulky, are difficult to ship and store. The mylar bags that we use for our grab-and-go flower packing are, in many ways, the least bad option available to us under the current OLCC regulations.

The exit bags that we are legally required to include with any non-child resistant products are reusable and made from recycled materials using wind power. Please reuse them. Keep one in the glovebox of your car or in a pocket of your backpack, bring it back when you come back to Substance for your next purchase (they also make great bags for marinating meat, so I’m told).

Per Substance owner Jeremy Kwit, “While we have researched and discovered options for recycled content and biodegradable flower packaging, it is not air-tight nor available in small containers for single grams. Unfortunately, the environmental impact of cannabis packaging has a lot to do with well-intentioned but misguided policy. Most children can operate scissors, and parents can leave open their packages. The best results for child resistance is good parenting, not cumbersome packaging. Open and honest communication, relationships built on trust and boundaries, will do much more to keep kids away from cannabis (and all drugs).”

Now that you know what we’re doing as a company, what can you do as a consumer?

  • Try to purchase products that come packaged in glass, hemp plastics, paper, or recycled plastics

  • Make sure you bring your exit bag

  • Stay vocal and speak up; demand environmental accountability from your favorite cannabis brands

  • Lobby for change in current OLCC policies


“Plastic Pollution Facts:” Plastic Oceans International, 4 Feb. 2021,

“Reducing the Cannabis Industry’s Plastic Problem.” Cannabis Tech,

Schlanger, Zoë. “An Environmental Expert’s Strategy for Unwrapping Our Plastic Recycling Crisis.” Quartz, Quartz,

More Reading:

A History of Cannabis: From Ancient Times to Modern Day

Cannabis Oversupply in Oregon: A Growing Concern

The Entourage Effect and the Endocannabinoid System

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