Chronic Waste: Strategies to Reduce Waste and Encourage Environmentally-Friendly Packaging in Canada’s Legal Cannabis Industry

This Policy Lab report analyzes eight strategies to minimize waste while limiting risks to public health and safety.

This article is the executive summary of the Chronic Waste: Strategies to Reduce Waste and Encourage Environmentally-Friendly Packaging in Canada’s Legal Cannabis Industry report. You can access the full Policy Lab report here.


In 2018, Canada legalized recreational cannabis, guided by the objectives of reducing harm, protecting public safety, reducing illicit activity, and protecting young people. But this progressive social policy has come at environmental cost: nearly two years after legalization, the cannabis industry has significantly contributed to virgin plastic manufacturing, consumption, and waste. It is estimated that a standard 3.5-gram package of dried cannabis comes packaged in more than 70 grams of plastic. Packaging waste and plastic pollution are unintended consequences of legalization and a blight on the industry.

The world produces 100 million tons of plastic annually – the equivalent in weight of 2,502,556 Montréal metro cars filled with rush-hour commuters. Despite 98% of Canadians having access to recycling facilities, Canadians only recycle 9% of the plastic that they consume. And even when they do, 86% of the plastic that lands in recycling bins is ultimately discarded in landfills.

Reducing cannabis packaging waste and the quest to incentivize environmentally-friendly solutions are at the heart of this policy lab challenge. This report analyzes eight strategies to minimize waste while limiting risks to public health and safety. To do so, we established evaluation criteria guided by the Cannabis Act, and grounded in research considerations generated from dialogue with cannabis industry stakeholders, including the Government of Canada, cannabis producers, industry associations, public health experts, and environmental and national and international regulatory experts.

We recommend that Health Canada pursue the following three strategies:

  1. Introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility program and a consignment and recycling system in public retail stores;
  2. Standardize cannabis packaging by type of product;
  3. Remove child-resistance from non-psychoactive cannabis products.

While producers and regulators have introduced initiatives to bring flexibility to packaging, this report explores the root of the problem and delivers recommendations that encourage all stakeholders to remove barriers to waste reduction.

Without coordinated action and dialogue between Health Canada and the cannabis industry, packaging waste will continue to grow. Consumers are calling out for more environmentally-friendly packaging alternatives; with the right policy instruments and grounding in public concern, the recommendations put forth in this report can heed that call and bring lasting reform to an emerging industry.


This Policy Lab was presented by our MPPs on July 9, 2020. Watch the video below:


About the Authors

Image of Omar AkeilehOmar Akeileh

MPP Class of 2020


Image of Erika MoyerErika Moyer

MPP Class of 2020


Image of Paisley SimPaisley Sim

MPP Class of 2020


Image of Lina Vissandjee AmarsyLina Vissandjee Amarsy

MPP Class of 2020

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