Social and Environmental Justice: Reclaimed Ocean Plastics (4/4)

In the last post in our series exploring the importance of environmental justice and ho...

Social and Environmental Justice: Reclaimed Ocean Plastics (4/4)

In the last post in our series exploring the importance of environmental justice and how it relates to ongoing discussions on social justice, we want to discuss why we use reclaimed ocean plastic to manufacture packaging for cannabis products. We will explore the serious environmental and social consequences that result from the current proliferation of single-use plastics, and the role using alternative materials plays in striving towards circularity.

At Sana Packaging, we view ocean plastic as a stranded resource. Our goal is to remove plastic from the ocean and reintroduce it to the marketplace and proper waste stream. There truly is a dire need for this type of innovation in packaging in the modern era. Since we began mass-producing plastics in the 1950s, we’ve created over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. Of these 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, only 9% has been recycled while 12% has been incinerated and 79% has ended up in our landfills and natural environment.

This has become an even larger problem as our society continues to favor single-use packaging as the main form of packaging for consumer-packaged goods. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this trend, as many businesses have turned solely to utilizing single-use packaging to brand their products as “safe” amidst the pandemic. The use of single-use plastic also has serious social justice consequences in addition to creating an environmental crisis. We know that plastics that aren’t being properly recycled are having a disproportionately negative impact on lower-income communities in the US and around the world. In our current system, developed countries often export their plastic waste. Instead of looking to address the problem internally and systemically, we are often simply passing it on to less-developed countries to deal with to disastrous results.

When plastic isn’t sent to landfills in lower-income communities, our oceans are also unfortunately the final destination for a lot of the plastic that enters the natural environment. Over 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans every year. And this plastic doesn’t disappear overnight, either. Many of us have seen the haunting images of “islands” of consolidated garbage floating in our oceans around the world. We have also seen the heartbreaking images of animals getting trapped in plastic waste or mistaking it for food. Plastic bags take roughly 20 years to break down and bulkier items like plastic bottles take over 400 years to break down. In that amount of time, we can cause irreparable damage to some of our planet’s most precious ecosystems. If we don’t address this problem with collective action from the business community, in addition to major systemic changes at the regulatory level, there will be more plastic than fish by volume in our oceans by 2050.

Although a lot of the information presented suggests a bleak picture of the future, we have a tremendous opportunity to create positive change when it comes to the plastic-packaging issue in the cannabis industry specifically. Because we are still a developing industry, we can make sustainable packaging the industry standard from the ground-up. This isn’t to suggest that we view our utilization of reclaimed ocean plastic as the only, or even best, solution to our current waste problems. For a problem this large, no single solution will serve as a cure-all. Our goal at Sana Packaging with utilizing reclaimed ocean plastic is to try limit our negative impact on the environment and low-income communities, while helping others recognize the value in moving away from our traditional “take-make-dispose” economic model and transitioning to a circular economic model.

A little more about reclaimed ocean plastics…

There are 5 categories of reclaimed ocean plastics in terms of collection areas:

Ocean bound – Material collected from communities with no formal waste management within 50 km of the shore line. This terminology is in accordance with standards and research set by the renowned marine debris expert, Jenna Jambeck.

Waterway – Material found in streams, rivers and other waterways flowing towards the ocean.

Coastal – Material that has washed up onto beaches and coastlines. Commonly fragmented and showing signs of degradation.

Near shore – Material suspended in the shallow or adjacent areas of the ocean that are close but not accumulating on the shore line.

High seas – Material far from shore, including accumulated floating “gyres.” The collected materials are almost exclusively HDPE, as it floats in ocean water and represents only 6% of the plastics that enter the stream of ocean plastic.

The reclaimed ocean plastic we use is a pure HDPE and a number 2 recyclable (and we will soon be integrating other types of reclaimed ocean plastics into our product offerings). We source our reclaimed ocean plastic in partnership with Oceanworks, a global marketplace for reclaimed ocean materials. One of the big value-adds that Oceanworks provides is the verification that we’re sourcing a pure material. Currently, we use reclaimed ocean plastic to manufacture tubes and screw-top closures for cannabis products like pre-rolls, vape cartridges, flower, salves, and edibles. We are continuously blown away with the innovative ways our customers use our reclaimed ocean plastic packaging for their specific product needs.

Written by: Galen Kuney, Supply Chain Manager