When setting sustainability goals, makers of cannabis products need to look holistically and collaboratively at products, packaging, and operations. “Sustainability presents an opportunity for businesses facing increasing competitive and economic pressures to gain value and competitive advantage as they respond to environmental concerns and the pressures of resource scarcity, population growth, and higher and more varied consumer expectations,” according to “Achieving Packaging Sustainability,” a report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. The challenge is to determine what action(s) will maximize positive impact on waste, costs, recycling, and efficiency, and support a circular economy.
Success depends on collaboration among all stakeholders, including consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, materials providers, and OEMs. Wherever possible, suppliers of cannabis products should:
- Consider carbon impact as part of the business case for any action
- Shift to green energy sources;
- Specify machines that consume less energy;
- Retrofit machines to run sustainable materials;
- Reduce consumables like lubricants, inks, adhesives, and labels;
- Lightweight containers, closures, and packaging materials;
- Generate less waste;
- Specify renewable, recyclable, recycled content, and/or compostable packaging material;
- Use less plastic; and
- Join organizations such as the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition and How2Recycle, a project of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and part of GreenBlue, an environmental nonprofit.
However, it must be understood that an effort to operate more sustainably can bring negative consequences such as higher product and packaging material costs, which cannot be passed along to the purchaser. Despite what many consumers say when surveyed, they often won’t pay a premium for sustainable products and packaging.
A more sustainable design or material can be problematic if it reduces the protective qualities of the package and results in increased damage or spoilage rates, higher costs, damaged company/product reputation, and harm to consumers. Sustainable designs should be thoroughly tested to ensure the transition will not have unacceptable consequences and will meet regulatory requirements such as child resistance, resealability, tamper evidence, and opacity.
Care also must be taken to avoid “greenwashing” with unsubstantiated environmental claims and attributes. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission regulates environmental marketing claims under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which “prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” The agency’s Green Guides help stakeholders determine what claims are appropriate. Environmental labeling requirements also are outlined in ISO 14020 (1).
Meanwhile, as sustainability efforts evolve, the PMMI report notes, attention is beginning to shift to four areas of activity. In Europe, CPG companies are asking for the carbon footprint rating of each machine as part of their vetting process. Increasingly, digitalization and smart connected systems are capturing data that can be used to optimize usage of resources from personnel to utilities like water and compressed air.
There’s also a movement toward a circular economy where products and packaging are recovered and converted into new products and packaging. This effort can be supported by closed-loop systems where reusable containers make multiple trips between the supplier and consumer. To achieve a circular economy, the cannabis industry must look for opportunities to adopt reusable packaging, collaborate more closely with recyclers, and take a more active role in the recycling and usage of recycled materials.
Finally, more attention must be paid to informing consumers about the role they play in better stewardship of resources and waste reduction. One way to educate consumers is to design packaging with recycling instructions such as the How2Recycle label.
Efforts to create a more sustainable world will be featured at PACK EXPO International (Oct. 23-26, 2022; McCormick Place, Chicago) where a PACK EXPO Green icon identifies exhibitors that provide renewable, biodegradable, source-reduced, recyclable, and/or recycled-content packaging materials or technologies that reduce carbon footprint. Sustainability-related educational sessions also will be offered, and the Reusable Packaging Association is once again sponsoring the Reusable Packaging Pavilion and the Reusable Packaging Learning Center, where a series of presentations will discuss how reusable packaging can reduce environmental impact, enhance product presentation, support product safety, protect perishables, and lower supply chain costs. Sessions also will cover how to maximize return on investment for reusables.
It is more important than ever that the packaging and processing industries come together to share insights and innovations, and the best place to do that is PACK EXPO International – the most comprehensive packaging and processing show in the world in 2022. From connecting with colleagues and hearing from experts to seeing new technologies, materials, and machinery-in-action, PACK EXPO International is the most efficient and effective way to discover packaging and processing solutions for over 40 vertical markets. No other event this year will showcase entire production line solutions and offer attendees everything needed to compete in a changing marketplace. For more information and to register, visit packexpointernational.com.
1 Institute of Packaging Professionals, “Environmental and Sustainability Issues,” Fundamentals of Packaging Technology, Fifth Edition, 2013, 151.