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Sustainable Cannabis Packaging: Trend or Table Stakes?

No longer a nice to have, sustainable packaging is table stakes for retail brands across all segments, not just cannabis brands. Research shows us that sustainability has a direct influence on purchasing decisions. According to Dotcom Distribution, 42% of consumers cited sustainability as the single most important reason they’d purchase again from a brand. But if you’re thinking putting a Mobius loop symbol on your product’s packaging is enough to check the box, think again. Consumers, especially millennials (a key demographic of the cannabis industry), expect brands to walk the talk.

Sustainability is more than a logo

While many cannabis producers know consumer expectations are high when it comes to product purity, touting claims of 100% natural, vegan, cruelty-free, and organic, too many fall short when it comes to the product packaging. And the truth is there has never been a more robust offering of sustainable materials when it comes to packaging, especially paper-based packaging.

Beyond PCW Fiber

In the mid-aughts (2000 – 2010), post-consumer waste content was the standard for brands looking to promote their sustainability efforts when it came to packaging. And while paper offers great recyclability (it can be recycled up to seven times before the fibers are too weak to make into paper again), there are even more opportunities today to incorporate sustainability into brand packaging.

Third-party certifications

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits – the very definition of sustainability. FSC certification requires all parties in the supply chain to undergo rigorous audits to ensure compliance. Beginning with protection and management of the forestland, to compliant harvesting practices and manufacturing of materials, to secure distribution, ensuring the integrity of product all the way through to final custom manufacturing at the packaging converter. FSC certification is the gold standard for forest stewardship.

Beyond FSC, there are numerous options to ensure your packaging materials offer a sustainable pedigree including Green-e, Green Seal, Carbon Neutral, and Process Chlorine Free to name a few.

Alternative fibers

When it comes to sustainable packaging materials, paper-based substrates offer much in the way of alternative fibers including bagasse, cotton, straw, and hemp. North American paper makers like Neenah, Mohawk, and French Paper all manufacture products with alternative fibers suitable for commercial print and folding board applications. Additionally, our packaging specialists work with cannabis producers at scale to provide closed-loop solutions, reusing product waste from the manufacturing process to create a custom packaging substrate.

Sustainable supply chain

While the pandemic has certainly highlighted the problems with a price-driven, just-in-time approach to supply chain management, sourcing sustainable packaging materials can be done on time, and on budget, and within a small footprint.

As a national distributor of paper and packaging, we work with suppliers across the globe but many of our most affordable material options are also produced right in our mid-western footprint. For example, consider the packaging for Michigan cannabis producers. Millcraft sources paperboard made with an alternative fiber such as hemp, that is manufactured at the mill, shipped a short distance to the packaging converter, and delivered back to the cannabis producer – all processes in the supply chain are within 100 miles in Michigan. That’s a small footprint compared to the default alternative of packaging produced in Asia, a decision likely driven solely on cost per unit.

Savvy cannabis brands are emphasizing their commitment to sustainability in multiple ways beyond the choice of packaging materials, some include clever solutions with structural design and production methods. And while no one knows what the future holds, it’s fair to say sustainability when it comes to packaging, especially cannabis packaging is a non-negotiable expectation.


From sustainable materials to eye-catching production techniques to structural design elements, our team of compliant packaging specialists knows what it takes to produce cannabis packaging that’s on-brand, on-budget, and a stand-out on the shelf. Schedule a consultation with one of our specialists today.