Cannabis Packaging: Paper or Plastic
With the onset of the cannabis industry there has spurred many designs of packaging of cannabis products in many different forms. From plastic bags and pouches, plastic cases, cardboard cases, and metal boxes. Notable requirements for cannabis packaging include ‘child-resistant’, moisture control, air tight, aroma-proof, portability, light-weight, easy to use, reuse (or repurpose), recyclable, environmentally safe, and branding (or ease of labeling).
Prior to any package design, one must these requirements, but also there has to be a consideration to the material: paper or plastic. (This article considers only paper and plastic because those are the prevalent materials in what we would consider short-term, disposable containers for our cannabis.) It is fair to say that many of these requirements can more easily be accomplished using plastic over paper, or cardboard, i.e., a paper product, and that plastic containers are more preferred over cardboard. There are several reasons for this preference. Plastic is more resilient, a good moisture and oxygen (air) barrier and it is lighter than cardboard. Most importantly, plastic is versatile and it can be formed into configurations that lends itself well to many more design options than paper or cardboard. This last point is important because it opens up more options to achieve that ever-important requirements of ‘child-resistance’. I consider the ability of a package to be child-resistant the most important package requirement for obvious reasons. All other ‘requirements’ are really ‘desirables’, but child-resistant is a ‘must-have’, not only because Colorado, Washington, and Oregon require it with other states to follow their lead soon, but to protect the children, and prevent them from accessing cannabis products. Ultimately all cannabis packaging will have to meet FDA 16 CFR 1700.20 for child-resistant packaging, of which the CRATIV Packaging cases have met that requirement.
To achieve a child-resistant package using a cardboard material, one has to consider the mechanical properties of cardboard versus plastic. Cardboard can be deformed more easily due to its very low strength property, and therefore, can become fatigued and break-down with relatively low forces with repeatable open and closure forces of the cardboard mechanisms. It can quickly become what is known as “temporary child-resistant”, in that, it may perform its locking function in the first few trials, and then becomes easy to open even for a child. Plastic latches and mechanisms have much greater strength, and will out-perform cardboard for repeatable opening and closing depending on a well-designed package. The CRATIV Packaging plastic cases have been designed with latching mechanisms that will maintain a child-resistant package long after the cannabis product is gone, and considered a “permanent child-resistant” case.
Regarding the other ‘desirable’ requirements, plastic containers are better moisture and air barriers (and consequently aroma barrier) than cardboard as paper products are more permeable. Even the plastic (or polymer) coating that is sometimes incorporated onto the cardboard package is thin and does not offer the same long-term protection of a plastic package.
The light-weight of plastic over cardboard is a plus for ‘portability’. Also affecting portability is the ability to design corner radii in the plastic container, whereas, cardboard containers need sharp corners (in order to maintain some sort of mechanical integrity), and that can be uncomfortable when in your pockets. The rigid plastic container can protect your product better during portable uses, in that, it can fit into your pant pockets without crushing your cannabis product. Ever see what happens to a cigarette pack after it has been in your pant pocket for a while? The CRATIV Packaging cases were designed for ease of portability and will protect your cannabis product.
Now what about that ever present argument on which is better for the environment. There has been much discussion on what is the better material when considering the effects on the environment. It has been assumed that paper-based products are more environmentally “friendly” than plastic-based products. But is that really the case? The EPA has stated that it requires large amounts of energy, water, and chemicals, and can emit toxic and hazardous chemicals into the air and water. Converting hard wood into paper requires a resource-heavy pulping process. The UK’s environmental agency determined in its life cycle analysis (LCA) pulping process to be significantly worse than plastic when considering the impact on human health and eco-toxicity.
Much has been published on plastic versus paper, and let me enlighten you on the facts:
- Clearing trees cause massive habitat destruction and long-term ecological damage.
- Recycled paper has to go through an arduous energy consuming process involving chemical compounds like hydrogen peroxide, sodium silicate, and sodium hydroxide.
- Paper-making process utilizes more of our precious environmental resource: water (3 times more water than to make plastic).
- Paper products use more energy (by almost 4-to-1) than making plastic products.
- Paper production emits 70% more air pollution than plastic production, and paper emits 80% more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Plastic creates less solid waste than paper: 1 cubic pounds versus 45.8 cubic pounds for paper.
- Plastic creates fewer emissions (by 4-to-1) and less waterborne waste (by 16:1) by weight.
- Paper products weigh more so shipping costs are higher and uses more energy to transport products.
- Plastic products use only 4% of the world’s total oil production.
In addition, because both paper and plastic are recyclable, the use of recyclable plastics in cannabis packaging puts the plastic container as an equal to cardboard, or does it? Evidence also indicates that it takes more water, energy, and chemicals to recycle paper, as the re-pulping process is once again instituted. Plastic merely needs to be reground back into pellet-like form and it is ready for reprocessing. Along with this, the plastic cases can be reused and repurposed for other uses, such as for personal storage boxes.
Regarding branding on cardboard packaging, or the ability to achieve aesthetic branding, cardboard containers have an edge over plastic containers because printing on flat cardboard allows for more printing choices and colors, and is more cost effective, of which labeling on plastic containers usually requires a separate label(s). Although recent efforts to achieve cost effective printing on plastic containers is gaining in the industry. As the cannabis industry becomes larger in the coming years, this printing process will become more economical.
When you weigh the pros and cons of each material, the consumer has to consider that plastic packaging used for your cannabis products can be more reliable, in both child-resistance and multiple uses, stronger and less permeable to better protect your cannabis product against moisture, air, aroma, and more environmentally “friendly and a better “greener” choice.
So there you have it. Plastic is better than paper after all………and this is why CRATIV Packaging has chosen plastic as the better packaging material to protect your cannabis product.
-Paul Burek, Co-Founder CRATIV Packaging