Social and Environmental Justice: Plant-Based Materials (3/4)

In this installment of our series exploring the relationship between environmental just...

Plant-Based Packaging

In this installment of our series exploring the relationship between environmental justice and social justice, we want to dive a little deeper into the specific materials we use to make our cannabis packaging products. We will highlight why we use plant-based hemp plastic to manufacture cannabis packaging and the role this material plays in our effort to transition towards circularity.

Industrial hemp is an ideal feedstock for bioplastics because it’s both a rapidly renewable and regenerative resource. Beyond bioplastics, hemp has also has proven to be a highly successful input for manufacturing a number of other sustainable products including textiles, paper, building materials, and biofuels. That said, industrial hemp is still an underutilized resource in modern manufacturing.

One reason manufacturers have been slow to adopt hemp as an input in their processes is due to prohibition – i.e. until very recently, hemp was federally illegal. Another reason is that businesses and consumers are often scared off by the (generally) higher cost of goods produced from hemp, which can be attributed to two things: (1) industrial hemp supply chains have still not reached economies of scale, and (2) manufacturers often have to significantly change their processes in order to effectively use hemp as a feedstock.

And between the global pandemic, civil rights protests, and wildfires, it can be easy to forget that we’re also in the midst of a global waste crisis. However, amidst the growing fog of smoke, disease, and tear gas, it has never been more clear that businesses have a responsibility to the environment and our communities to change the way they extract and use natural resources to manufacture products like plastics. And with changing regulations and attitudes towards industrial hemp, we hope this plant will continue to play a larger and larger role in our effort to transition to a circular economy. We also know that as industrial hemp supply chains approach economies of scale and manufacturers adapt their processes to this new feedstock, the cost of goods produced from hemp will drop significantly.

The hemp plastic we use is 100% plant-based and chemical free. Technically, it’s a fiber-reinforced biocomposite made from 30% micronized hemp hurd and 70% PLA, and we use biobased binders so the material is truly 100% plant-based. Currently, we use plant-based hemp plastic to manufacture tubes and containers for cannabis products like pre-rolls, vape cartridges, flower, and concentrates. We are continuously blown away with the innovative ways our customers use our plant-based hemp plastic packaging for their specific product needs.

And of course, using plant-based hemp plastic ties directly into our effort to transition to a circular economy. Along with using a rapidly renewable and regenerative feedstock, our plant-based hemp plastic products are sourced and made in the USA. Not only that, but we employ a regional manufacturing strategy in order to minimize the distances materials travel. In so doing, we are also supporting domestic agriculture and domestic manufacturing – i.e. local businesses – in the regions in which we operate.

Unfortunately, the current waste management systems in the United States are not set up to process #7 recyclables or to compost bioplastics, regardless of whether or not they are compostable or biodegradable. This is a huge system failure that needs to be addressed, and our hope is that as more consumers demand plant-based products and more businesses manufacture plant-based products, it will pressure our antiquated waste management systems to adapt to a plant-based future. In short – our recycling system is broken, our composting system is barely a system at all, and our landfills are full of materials that should either be recycled or composted. And as we discussed in our last blog post, low-income and disenfranchised communities are the most severely impacted by our crumbling waste management infrastructure.

And while our waste management infrastructure is the largest piece of this puzzle, there is another important piece that needs to be addressed: secondary markets for recycled and reclaimed materials. In short, there is currently not a large enough market for recycled and reclaimed materials to sustainably support the amount of waste humans create. At Sana Packaging, we hope to lead by example by driving value to markets for not just plant-based materials, but also recycled and reclaimed materials. We will address secondary markets for recycled and reclaimed materials more in-depth in our next blog post, which will focus on reclaimed ocean plastics.

Written by: Galen Kuney, Supply Chain Manager