Following in the footsteps of packaging in general, sustainable or “green” packaging is now making in-roads in the cannabis sector. Initially, as producers rushed to meet new demand created by the rapid increase in legalization, any package that met standards would do. Recently, however, efforts are on the rise to package these products in materials that are recyclable, biodegradable and compostable, according to Reports and Data research on the global Cannabis Packaging Market. Combined with research from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, the study expects the cannabis packaging market to reach $5.2 billion by 2026 as marijuana is now legal to some degree in nearly 30 states and is pending further legalization in more than a dozen others.

The cannabis industry as a whole is expected to reach $24.5 billion alone in the U.S. by 2020, with $11.2 billion for recreational products. While 89 percent of customers preferred flowers in 2017, by 2020 only 61 percent of customers will prefer flowers, instead favoring concentrated, processed formats.

While the packaging was initially an afterthought, the growth in consumption has cannabis consumers noting the wastefulness of many current packages. In particular, environmentally conscious consumers are voicing concerns about the waste created by single-use packaging for cannabis.

In response to such complaints, Canadian cannabis producers are exploring new packaging that will be better for the environment. Regulations regarding child-proofing and labeling pose significant challenges, however.

Canada’s Cannabis Act outlines labeling requirements designed to prevent accidental consumption, ensure products are not appealing to children and youth and provide customers with the information they need to make informed decisions before using cannabis products. It requires that packaging clearly convey factual and accurate information about cannabis products, information about the level of THC in products and information on any other ingredients that have been added to cannabis products.

Health Canada’s requirements specify label sizes for cannabis packaging and then require that the primary package be large enough to accommodate those labels, making it challenging to use smaller containers for smaller amounts of cannabis.

Producers are attempting to address the problem by working with packaging consultants. Together they are exploring environmentally friendly packaging used in other industries that could find similar use in cannabis packaging.

In addition to labeling size regulations, individual U.S. states and Canadian Provinces maintain different limits around cannabis quantity and THC dosage. For example, Ottawa has proposed limiting packages to a maximum of 10-milligram dose of THC per container. If one edible contains 10 milligrams of THC, that must be packaged separately increasing the need for environmentally safe packaging for such small packages. Producers continue to work with governments to relax guidelines that are indirectly creating more waste, as they fear that environmentally-minded customers will pass on their product as a result.

A study by Deloitte found that packaging size and style is a consideration for consumers making cannabis purchases, and they are willing to pay more per gram for cannabis if it is available in preferred packaging. According to Deloitte, 46 percent of current cannabis users and 36 percent of likely users are more likely to buy a cannabis product if it was available in preferred package sizes. The study also found that 19 percent of current users and 17 percent of likely users are more likely to purchase a cannabis product if it is available in a preferred package type.

Millennials represent the most significant cannabis consumer demographic and are a demographic known to value the social and environmental responsibility of the brands they purchase. After customers at Alberta-based lifestyle products company High Tide consistently reported dissatisfaction with the excess amount of packaging on cannabis products, the company unveiled a free recycling program at all of its Canna Cabana retail stores. As part of the program, the retailer will accept all cannabis packaging items such as outer and inner plastic packaging, tins, plastic bottles, plastic caps and flexible plastic bags purchased from a licensed retailer. Customers can drop all packaging materials featuring the Health Canada THC symbol at any Canna Cabana store, which will be sent by the company to a qualified recycling services provider.

No event in North America this year will match the size and scope of cannabis packaging technologies and innovations in labeling, inspection equipment and track and trace like PACK EXPO Las Vegas co-located with Healthcare Packaging EXPO 2019 (Sept. 23-25; Las Vegas Convention Center). The event will bring together 30,000 packaging professionals with 2,000 leading industry suppliers over 900,000 net square feet of show floor. Registration, which includes access to both PACK EXPO Las Vegas and Healthcare Packaging EXPO, is $30 through Aug. 30 after which the price increases to $100. For more information and to register online, visit packexpolasvegas.com.

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