I’m an Avid Recycler. Which Cannabis Container Is the Least Bad Package?

You saw it coming: Neither of the containers you mention is recyclable.

I’m an avid recycler and try to live a sustainable life. When I buy cannabis, it comes in either a #5 polypropylene container or a mylar-and-paper pouch. Looking at the total carbon footprint of both packaging options, which is the least bad package? —Brett

Spoiler alert: They both suck. But first, I want to tell you a story.

One of the downsides of marijuana legalization has been watching a thing that was once sexy and transgressive get reduced by the wood chipper of bureaucracy to a joyless slog with the roguish charm of a zoning variance hearing.

To wit: Oregon law requires retail cannabis containers to be both childproof and (in most cases) resealable. A tall order—but never fear! The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has helpfully created a 72-page formulary of cannabis packaging products that are pre-approved as meeting these administrative requirements. Groovy, eh?

That’s how you got stuck with all that plastic, even though both you and the weed producers would probably both prefer some next-level compostable package made of jute fibers and woven dog hair.

A few packaging producers, to their credit, have managed to make childproof containers out of cardboard. However, most childproof designs still use the same good old, bad old, supposedly recyclable plastic all our other consumer goods come in.

You saw it coming: Neither of the containers you mention is recyclable. The #5 polypropylene ones are below Metro’s 6-ounce capacity minimum for plastic containers, and mylar isn’t recyclable at all. Luckily, it doesn’t matter, at least not that much—not because we’ll all soon be dead (though we will), but because plastics recycling is, and has always been, largely a sham.

Plastics stamped with numerals above 2 are hardly ever recycled. Those triangle-enclosed numbers were invented by the industry* to salve your environmental conscience—as long as we think plastic is getting recycled, we don’t feel bad about using more of it.

Sure, it would be nice if those feelgood, “Someday this old margarine tub will be a shiny new bicycle!” plastics ads were real. (Imagine them recast for the decriminalization era: “Someday this old weed container will be a shiny new heroin syringe!”) But the real answer is to use less plastic in the first place. You know what that means: Time to start buying weed in bulk!

*In this era of made-up conspiracy theories, I should probably clarify that this plan was documented last year in an investigation by National Public Radio and Pro Publica.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.