New York’s upcoming adult-use cannabis industry could become a model of sustainable packaging under a bill that would make hemp the primary source of materials used to package regulated marijuana products. Under the bill from state Sen. Michelle Hinchey, the New York Cannabis Control Board would be directed to develop a plan to designate industrial hemp as the primary source of packaging materials for all cannabis products manufactured in the state.
“There is no other natural resource that offers the same environmental, agricultural, and economic potential as hemp. My bill will create a market, kickstarting the industry and moving New York State to the forefront in a way that will help us tackle the climate crisis, give our small farmers a competitive edge, and boost upstate economic development,” Hinchey, the chair of New York’s Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement.
Bill Creates Program to Spur Innovation
Hinchey drafted the bill to support the creation of a sustainable industrial hemp industry that provides economic opportunity for the state’s independent farmers and small businesses. The measure also directs the state’s Office of Cannabis Management and the Empire State Development to establish a Sustainable Cannabis Packaging Incubator Program to offer financial incentives to farmers and entrepreneurs who contribute to the development and use of environmentally friendly, hemp-based packaging materials.
“What we have done is directed the state’s new cannabis control board to develop a plan so that industrialized hemp can be used as a packaging material,” Hinchey told reporters after introducing the bill. “That way we won’t use plastics, will be using something that is biodegradable, that will support our farmers, specifically New York State farmers – small- and mid-sized family farms with a new product and create the demand.”
Participants in the incubator program will be challenged to create cannabis product packaging that is compostable and biodegradable and made from at least 30% hemp. Up to 70% of the remaining material could be sourced from recycled plastic, which is not necessarily biodegradable or compostable. Hemp materials used for the program must be purchased from an eligible New York farm, business, or individual. Eligible suppliers include those designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as small farms, which generate less than $250,000 in annual revenue.
“With my bill, we have an incredible opportunity to unleash the potential of biodegradable hemp-based products that slashes our use of plastics, incentivizes farmers and entrepreneurs to be part of this innovation stage, and propels an industry that has not reached even a fraction of its full potential,” Hinchey said. “Environmentally-safe industrialized hemp is the future of manufacturing and I look forward to getting my bill passed in the 2022 session so that New York can lead the way in this emerging market.”
Traditional Plastic Is Environmentally Unsound
In 2018, about 35.7 million tons of plastic trash was sent to landfills, accounting for about 12.2% of the municipal solid waste generated. The amount of discarded plastic jumped by 4.3 million tons per year between 2010 and 2018, with much of the increase caused by containers and packaging, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Packaging requirements in areas that have legalized cannabis for recreational or adult use vary from one jurisdiction to another, with most mandating child-resistant containers for licensed marijuana products. Other regulations such as labeling requirements or provisions that call for only opaque containers also limit the packaging options available to licensed brands.
Plastics manufactured from hemp or other plant materials have several advantages over many other options, taking advantage of a renewable resource unlike petroleum-based plastics. Plant-based plastics are also more environmentally sound and can biodegrade in three to six months, compared to hundreds of years for traditional materials.
But hemp is unlikely to solve all the cannabis industry’s packaging challenges. James Eichner, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Sana Packaging, a Colorado company specializing in sustainable packaging for the cannabis industry including hemp-based and reclaimed plastics, applauds the spirit of Hinchey’s proposal. But he adds that “we don’t have a one-size fits all solution” for the needs of the regulated marijuana industry.
“This bill is well intentioned, but it doesn’t take into account the many complexities in the cannabis packaging industry such as the absence of FDA approved hemp materials suitable for packaging,” Eichner wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “Cannabis packaging is not currently subject to FDA regulations, but we believe it will be as we continue to move towards federal legalization. Additionally, there is no consensus on the definition of ‘biodegradable.’ which further complicates the issue. We would love to work with Senator Hinchey on this bill to develop a solution that addresses all the nuances of the cannabis industry.”
Hinchey unveiled her bill, S.7508, on November 19, noting that she has made the proposal a priority for the upcoming 2022 legislative session, which begins in January. The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee for further action.