Sustainable vs Traditional Cannabis Packaging

Packaging is a necessary component of most cannabis businesses. Until current regulator...

Sustainable vs Traditional Cannabis Packaging

Packaging is a necessary component of most cannabis businesses. Until current regulatory standards change, states will continue to require businesses in the cannabis industry to use compliant packaging in order to legally sell their products. 

However, not all cannabis packaging is created equally and the materials used to manufacture cannabis packaging can have a significant impact on both the environment and the product itself. 

This blog post examines the difference between sustainable and traditional cannabis packaging. We will highlight a few key differences in hopes to better inform your decisions the next time you’re exploring sustainable packaging solutions.

What Makes Packaging Sustainable? 

Defining “sustainable packaging” can be tricky because “sustainable” and “sustainability” are such broad concepts. A recent BigCommerce blog post states that at its most basic level, “sustainable packaging is earth-friendly and doesn’t contribute to the further depletion of natural resources.”

And through the thousands of conversations we’ve had about sustainable packaging with customers, investors, and peers, we’ve found that “sustainable” and “sustainability” can mean different things to different people. 

There are, however, several key aspects of sustainable packaging that differentiate it from traditional packaging. According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Definition of Sustainable Packaging, sustainable packaging should meet the following criteria:

1. Is beneficial, safe, and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle.

2. Meets market criteria for performance and cost.

3. Is sourced, manufactured, transported, and recycled using renewable energy.

4. Optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials.

5. Is manufactured using clean production technologies and best practices.

6. Is made from materials that remain healthy throughout their lifecycle.

7. Is physically designed to optimize materials and energy.

8. Is effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial closed-loop cycles.

Some popular types of sustainable packaging include packaging made from reclaimed ocean plastic, post-consumer recycled materials or post-industrial materials. These materials promote closed-loop systems and the recycling markets that support them. 

Other types of sustainable packaging include materials made from renewable and regenerative resources, which are often described as bio-based or plant-based packaging. These materials are also often defined as compostable or biodegradable.

Unfortunately, the terms compostable and biodegradable are confusing and often used interchangeably when in reality they mean very different things.

According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, biodegradable refers to a material’s ability to “break down, safely and relatively quickly, by biological means, into the raw materials of nature.”

Compostable refers to a material’s ability to biodegrade “in a composting environment in a relatively short time, capable of producing usable compost.”

When it comes to plastics, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that “biodegradable” is not a meaningful term because “it does not give any information about the length of time taken for the process to complete, or the conditions that are required.”

This nuance can be confusing for businesses and consumers in the cannabis industry, so having a knowledgeable representative help your business through its transition to sustainable packaging is extremely important. A knowledgeable representative can also help ensure your messaging to consumers is correct and consistent.

While sustainable packaging is a broad concept with a range of meanings, it’s important to remember that everyone involved in the sustainable packaging movement has the same goal: to reduce the negative impact packaging can have on our communities and the environment.

Considerations When Exploring Sustainable Cannabis Packaging

So what are some things you should consider when exploring sustainable cannabis packaging options for your business? 


Compliance is the name of the game in the cannabis industry. Depending on the state in which your cannabis business operates, compliant cannabis packaging could mean packaging that’s ASTM child-resistant certified, FDA certified, opaque, etc. 

In our experience, one of the most difficult parts of developing sustainable cannabis packaging made from plant-based, reclaimed, or recycled materials is designing the child-resistant locking mechanisms. 

In fact, a recent study by McGill University suggests that getting rid of child-resistant packaging for non-activated products has the potential to reduce cannabis packaging waste by upwards of 70% along with increasing the recycling rate of cannabis packaging, increasing the range of packaging materials available to producers, and reducing the cost of cannabis packaging. 

Additionally, not all plant-based, reclaimed, or recycled materials have been FDA certified. As a result, some of these materials don’t meet compliance standards in certain states.

It’s important to be aware of the specific requirements mandated by your state, and to make sure your cannabis packaging partner also understands your needs so that they can work with you to ensure your products are compliant.

Material Variance

Another important factor to consider when exploring sustainable cannabis packaging options is the possibility of material variance from different production batches. The inputs for sustainable packaging, such as plastic-free packaging, plant-based, reclaimed, and recycled materials, can be more volatile than traditional inputs.

We’ve noticed that when sustainable packaging products experience extreme temperature swings while in transit or in storage can cause slight color and texture variations between batches.

This is not to suggest that material variance makes sustainable packaging an unattractive option for your business. It’s simply important to understand that some factors can be outside of your control when you’re working with packaging made from sustainable materials. 


When it comes to customization, it’s important to understand that the material a packaging product is made from can have an impact on the customization process.

Some materials can be harder to print on while others can be harder to adhere labels to - in other words, you should work with a cannabis packaging supplier that has a high level of expertise with sustainable materials in order to achieve the results you want. 

If your cannabis packaging requires custom printing or labeling, it’s crucial to have a strong relationship with your cannabis packaging supplier. A good cannabis packaging supplier will guide you through the customization process and help ensure all stakeholders are satisfied with the final product.

Consumers and Sustainable Packaging

1. 75% of consumers view sustainability as “important” or “very important” (BCG).

2. 66% of all consumers and 75% of millennial consumers consider sustainability when making a purchasing decision (McKinsey US).

3. 37% of consumers prioritize sustainability when making purchasing decisions (Gartner Research).

4. 30% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that deliver on sustainability claims (Gartner Research).

5. 51% of investors think it’s important for healthy companies to pursue their ESG priorities fully (BCG).

6. Over the past 5 years there has been a 71% increase in online searches for sustainable goods (The Economist). 

Sustainability Matters to Consumers

In short, consumers care about environmental sustainability and sustainable packaging, and we’re confident this movement will only continue gaining momentum.

One of the best ways to meet the evolving needs of customers concerned with sustainability is through your packaging, but you need to have packaging that prioritizes sustainability first! 

Contact Sana Packaging if you’re ready to discover the real impact your packaging has on the environment and you’re ready to build a long-term relationship with a cannabis packaging supplier you can trust. It all starts with a conversation!