Member Blog: How to Build a Sustainable Cannabis Packaging Solution

Member Blog: How to Build a Sustainable Cannabis Packaging Solution

According to NielsenIQ, 92% of consumers say sustainability is important when choosing a brand today. Packaging can play a significant role in helping brands meet their sustainability goals and attract eco-conscious consumers. Designing and manufacturing sustainable packaging requires a holistic approach that includes understanding the actual container, the manufacturing process, transportation and energy requirements, carbon footprint, and government regulations. When it comes to the cannabis industry, packaging solutions must also meet requirements around child resistance, tamper-evidence, opacity, resealability, label design, and more. Despite the complexities, sustainable cannabis packaging can be compliant, functional, and beautiful. Cannabis brands have many eco-friendly pathways to consider.


Compostable packaging refers to packaging that will decompose into nutrient-rich organic matter, CO2, and water in a controlled environment in the home or commercial composting facility. According to the U.S. Composting Council, compost diverts waste from ending up in landfills, conserves water, improves soil health, promotes plant growth, and combats climate change. Because of their organic composition, cannabis products are an emerging application for compostable packaging made from hemp and other plant-based materials. Compostable products must meet strict testing requirements for decomposition, such as specific environment, specific time frame, environmental toxicity, etc. Compostable should not be confused with biodegradable packaging, which has no such requirements and may contribute to greenwashing. Compostable packaging solutions are available for cannabis products, including pre-rolls, flower, and edibles.

Recycled Materials

Beyond using recyclable packaging, today’s brands are increasingly using recycled materials like post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics, ocean-bound plastics, and recycled paperboard to demonstrate a commitment to the environment. Post-consumer recycled content in packaging contributes to a circular economy by extending material life cycles. According to the US Plastic Pact, it reduces landfill waste, conserves natural resources, saves energy, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Adding PCR content to packaging decreases its carbon footprint (reduced energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, extraction of finite natural resources, and landfill disposal) compared to using 100% virgin materials, helping brands meet their sustainability goals. In addition to consumer demand, government regulations are also driving the use of PCR materials. New York introduced requirements for PCR plastic use in cannabis packaging. The Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) states, “cannabis product packaging cannot be made of any plastic, unless that plastic contains a minimum 25% post-consumer recycled content.”


Reusable shopping bags, refillable water bottles, and metal drinking straws are just a few reuse initiatives people have worked into their everyday routines over the past several years. Reusability reduces single-use packaging waste and promotes a circular economy. Consumer packaged goods brand owners – including those in the cannabis industry – are beginning to capitalize on the growing refill and reuse mentality by introducing reusable packaging. Reusable cannabis packaging can be refilled with more cannabis or used for other purposes. Material selection is essential to ensure reusability is practical and sustainable. Glass containers and high-quality, durable plastics are long-lasting and well-suited for reuse. Food-safe packaging solutions provide added functionality and additional usage occasions.  Dockside Cannabis dispensaries feature seven ways to repurpose old cannabis containers.

Paper, Inks & Labeling

Secondary packaging, label components, and decoration can also play a role in a brand’s sustainability story. Using Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper for shipping cases, secondary cartons, and inserts helps protect healthy, resilient forests. Several cannabis brands use FSC paper for their rolling papers. Inks may not be top of mind when considering eco-friendly packaging, but even seemingly minor details can have a significant impact. Inks, dyes, and coatings can inhibit recyclability and/or reusability, so using soy-based, water-based, or vegetable-based inks contributes to the lifecycle of a package. Soulshine Cannabis uses paper sourced from sustainable PNW forests and prints with vegetable-based inks as part of its commitment to be an environmentally conscious cannabis company. 

Shipping Efficiencies

For a packaging solution to be truly sustainable, it needs to perform at every stage of its journey, from the warehouse to the consumer. Shipping is a big part of a package’s journey and an important part of its carbon footprint. According to the EPA, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation account for about 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. When it comes to transportation – and cannabis – size matters. Sizing is an essential factor when selecting the proper cannabis packaging, as it can impact the quality of the product. However, right-sizing your package to ensure it’s not larger than it needs to be can reduce the environmental impacts of shipping. Light-weighting – reducing the weight of your package by rethinking the size, material, or unneeded components – can also make a difference. Efficient packaging can reduce fuel consumption and emissions associated with shipping. 

When it comes to sustainable cannabis packaging, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Brands should consider a variety of tactics including material, size, weight, decoration, and more to find the most effective and impactful package for their product.

Author & Company Information

Moira Stein

Moira Stein is the Market Insights & Brand Strategy Specialist at Berlin Packaging. She has over 20 years of experience developing insight-based branding and design solutions for clients across various categories, from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. She provides Berlin Packaging customers with consumer and market insights to help grow their business and partners with the Studio One Eleven Design & Innovation division on impactful design solutions that win at shelf.

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