Plant-Based Plastics in Cannabis Industry: A Step towards more Sustainable Packaging
As we continue to see more and more states moving to cannabis legal practices, the packaging initiatives affecting every other industry are having an impact. More than 54% of consumers aged 44 and under consider whether the products they purchase are safely wrapped in eco-friendly or sustainable packaging. This is not because there is a sudden influx of woke politics in the younger generations. It is simply because using recyclable materials, biodegradable packaging, or plant-based plastics makes sense.
Right now, the United States only recycles about 5-6% of our total waste output. Granted, some of that is food or heavy metals that cannot be easily recycled, but that still leaves a massive amount of trash tipping into our landfills. At the very least, we should be upping that number to 25-30% to feel even a little socially responsible.
This is why many consumers want a more sustainable option when buying everything from toilet paper to chicken breasts, and marijuana packaging is no different. Take into account the massive popularity of cannabis-related products for health benefits, relaxation, stress reduction, or to enjoy an evening with friends. You have a new cash crop that needs better packaging options to reduce waste output. That leaves the marijuana state-compliant packaging industry with two options: plant-based and sustainable plastics.
What is the Difference Between Plant-Based Plastics and Sustainable Plastics?
Plant-based and sustainable plastics are alternatives to traditional, non-renewable plastics but have different characteristics and properties.
Plant-based plastics, also known as bioplastics, are made from renewable biological materials such as corn starch, sugarcane, or cellulose. They can be biodegraded by microorganisms and are considered more environmentally friendly than traditional plastics. However, the biodegradability of plant-based plastics depends on the conditions of the environment, and some of them may not break down in landfills.
On the other hand, sustainable plastics are not necessarily made from renewable materials, but they are designed to be more environmentally friendly in different ways. For example, they can be made from recycled materials, or they can be designed to be more easily recyclable or biodegradable. Sustainable plastics can also be made from plant-based materials, but they are not limited to that.
Why Does the Difference Matter?
At MSN Packaging Inc, we often consider options between what types of plastics and recyclable packaging to use. We want to ensure our clients have the best possible child-resistant packaging that leans toward eco-friendly practices. The challenge between plant-based and sustainable plastics comes from the recycling process.
To make everything simple, think of it this way. Bioplastic refers to any plastic packaging designed to be biodegradable. Plant-based plastics fall into that category but are sourced from agricultural pieces (corn, wheat, rice, etc.).
One of the reasons this difference matters is related to how these items degrade. Bioplastic sounds environmentally friendly, but it still takes a long time and releases dangerous gasses for the environment, like carbon dioxide and methane. Any landfill that doesn’t have a methane harvesting system in production will harm the atmosphere as these sustainable plastics break down and release their gas.
It comes down to getting enough oxygen. Time to put on our science hats for a moment.
For biodegradation to occur, you need some key elements. Those include oxygen, nitrate, sulfate, carbon dioxide formation, and substrate loss. Sometimes this can happen thanks to our friendly fungi, yeasts, and molds that naturally form. Other times, landfills will need a bit of creativity to “stir the soup” and infuse oxygen into the ground.
All this means it takes more than tossing a state-compliant packaging cannabis product made with sustainable plastics into the ground. Some extra work has to be involved. That is why many people in our industry are using plant-based plastics.
Plant Based Plastics are the Wave of the Future
Plant-based plastics that fall under bioplastics do offer a more renewable future. They offer a lower energy use threshold in production and emit fewer harmful gasses. However, there is still a recycling challenge. These items require specific disposal methods to properly decompose. Still, they offer a better alternative that is a massive step in the right direction.
Most importantly, they require less energy in production and do not utilize fossil fuels as much. They encourage more plant life growth, creating more jobs for farmers and hardworking families across the globe. This reduces our collective carbon footprint and gets everyone into a mindset of continual waste disposal, recycling, reusing, and efficient evolution of trash management.
The Plastic Recycling Dance
The significant problem we will face now is figuring out how to effectively recycle these items without further contamination. PLA, or polylactic acid, is a plant-based plastic commonly used as an alternative to traditional, non-renewable plastics. Because it is made from renewable materials, it is considered more environmentally friendly than conventional plastics.
However, recycling PLA can be challenging because it needs to be separated from other types of plastics, such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a widely used and recycled plastic.
One of the main challenges with recycling PLA is that it can easily contaminate other types of plastics. This can happen when PLA and different kinds of plastics are mixed together during the recycling process, making it difficult or impossible to separate them. This can also occur when PLA is combined with other types of plastics during manufacturing.
To avoid contamination, it is essential to properly sort and separate PLA from other types of plastics. This can be done by educating the public on properly recycling different types of plastics and setting up separate collection systems.
How to Make Cannabis Packaging More Eco-Friendly
At MSN Packaging, we are doing everything we can to walk the line between child-safe packaging for marijuana products and eco-friendly options for our socially aware clients. While scientists and industry moguls discuss which plastic is a cost-effective future, we think educating and focusing on each of us doing our part at home is better.
If you want to make an impact on improving our environment while still enjoying cannabis, then sorting your plastics correctly and reducing your reliance on single-use items is the best solution. Pay close attention to the different plastic recycling codes stamped onto the bottom of any product you purchase. Then, compare that to your local waste management facility. If they are not doing their part by sorting these items, step up and let your town council know! You can do a lot of good by changing how your town recycles!
For our part, we will continue to offer paper and plastic materials made from the leading eco-friendly and recyclable products. This way, we lean on the industry to move in that direction. The more we spend our dollars forcing this evolution, the more resources will be poured into making it safer, more efficient, and more rewarding for everyone involved. This way, everyone gets the child-resistant packaging needed to keep families safe and the state-compliant packaging that helps our environment.
We are always open to suggestions from our clients. We have a wide variety of packaging options and want to be sure we are serving your needs as best as possible. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any suggestions you may have.
We are also closely monitoring research by teams like the NIU researchers who are making new hemp-based plastics that could transform the industry forever. Whatever the innovation, you can count on MSN Packaging to be there, making sure it is right for you and your cannabis-related products.
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