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How to Recycle Cannabis Packaging in Ontario

We hear you: recreational cannabis packaging can seem excessive. Here’s why — and how you can best recycle different types of packaging in Ontario.

How to Recycle Cannabis Packaging in Ontario

Good news: most cannabis packaging can be recycled. While there is certainly room for improvement — and strides are being made — there are options available to help keep packaging out of landfill.

Read on to learn the ins and outs of recreational cannabis packaging, including why certain materials are used, how to recycle specific materials, and what to do with packaging that can’t be recycled at home.

Why is there so much packaging?

To protect against accidental consumption, ensure products are not appealing to children or youth, and to provide the consumer with the necessary information to make informed decisions, Licensed Producers must adhere to stringent packaging and labelling requirements enforced by the federal Cannabis Act and Health Canada.

The Federal Cannabis Act specifies that cannabis must be packaged in containers that are:

  • Opaque or semi-transparent
  • Tamper-evident and child-resistant
  • Designed to prevent contamination and keep cannabis fresh

These specific requirements can make it difficult to use biodegradable materials that can fulfill all the necessary criteria.

Health Canada also has strict requirements for the information displayed on cannabis labels. Each Licensed Producer is responsible for producing packaging that includes mandatory health warnings, a standardized cannabis symbol, and specific information about the product.

Licensed Producers may also want to go a step further by ensuring their packaging will make their brand stand out, maintain freshness and quality, and show the terpene profile of their product.

To learn more about the legal requirements for cannabis packaging, click here.

Why does packaging use so much plastic?

There’s no perfect packaging solution for cannabis. Producers need to strike a balance between many factors — product protection, weight, compliance, user-friendliness and recyclability. As a result, using compostable and biodegradable materials can be difficult. Plastic is often used because it is lightweight, inexpensive, versatile, and can be used to maintain freshness.

That being said, efforts are being made to improve the amount and type of packaging:

  • Less weight: Many Producers have found ways to make their same packaging smaller and lighter, using less material and making it easier to transport
  • Recycled content: Some Producers are making use of recycled content or even reclaimed ocean plastics in their packaging. 
  • Plastic alternatives: Using alternatives to plastic, such as glass jars and cardboard boxes for products such as dried flower and pre-rolls, is becoming increasingly common.

Can I send cannabis packaging back to the OCS to be reused or refilled?

No, unfortunately. Federal regulations require cannabis products to be securely packaged by Producers and sealed with an excise stamp before being delivered to the OCS.

Can the OCS shipping and packaging boxes be recycled?

We make sure that whenever possible, we choose shipping materials that can be re-used or recycled. The following items can be recycled when you receive your shipment:

  • OCS branded carboard boxes
  • Packing paper
  • Packing slip

We use bubble wrap to package beverages and sometimes use padded bubble mailers as added protection to prevent product from shaking around during shipping. Although the padded envelopes can’t be recycled as-is, you can separate the paper from the plastic lining and then recycle the paper or re-use for other purposes.

Can I recycle my cannabis packaging?

Depending on where you live, most cannabis packaging can be recycled in your curbside recycling program or at your local recycling depot.

Cannabis products come packaged in a variety of formats including sealable pouches, plastic jars, tubes and boxes. To determine the type of plastic used in your cannabis packaging, and whether it can be recycled, check the bottom of the container for a code displayed within the recycling symbol.

Curbside recycling programs vary between municipalities. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your local program’s restrictions and requirements. 

Some cannabis packaging is only recyclable through special recycling programs (such as Terracycle) that accept cannabis packaging from Licensed Producers. Once collected, packaging is then cleaned and repurposed into new recycled products. These collection boxes are available at some Authorized Cannabis Stores. Some Stores have even created their own packaging take-back programs and will collect specific waste, such as vape cartridges and batteries.

Here's a closer look at the most commonly used materials in cannabis packaging:

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) (#1)
Plastic

Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

Commonly used for Dried flower jars, concentrate bottles
Recyclable in Ontario Accepted in almost all Blue Box programs
Commonly repurposed to make Textiles such as carpets, pillow stuffing, life jackets, clothing, sleeping bags, and winter coats
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) (#2)
Plastic

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

Commonly used for Dried flower jars, concentrate bottles
Recyclable in Ontario Accepted in almost all Blue Box programs
Commonly repurposed to make Picnic tables, park benches, plastic lumber and waste bins
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) (#4)
Plastic

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Commonly used for Concentrate bottles
Recyclable in Ontario Accepted in most Blue Box programs
Commonly repurposed to make Plastic lumber, landscaping boards, garbage can liners and floor tiles
Polypropylene (PP) (#5)
Plastic

Polypropylene (PP)

Commonly used for Dried flower jars, pre-roll tubes
Recyclable in Ontario Accepted in most Blue Box programs
Commonly repurposed to make Ice scrapers, brooms and battery cables
Other plastics or multilayer combinations (#7)
Plastic/Mixed/Laminates

Other plastics or multilayer combinations (#7)

Commonly used for Pouches used for a variety of products (including dried flower and edibles)
Recyclable in Ontario Sometimes accepted in Blue Boxes. Not accepted if lined with foil/mylar.
Commonly repurposed to make If recyclable, picnic tables, park benches, plastic lumber and waste bins
Glass
Commonly used for Dried flower jars, beverages
Recyclable in Ontario Accepted in almost all Blue Box programs
Commonly repurposed to make Glass bottles and jars, fibreglass
Metal (aluminum, steel)
Commonly used for Beverages
Recyclable in Ontario Accepted in almost all Blue Box programs
Commonly repurposed to make Aluminum or steel cans or other products
Paper/cardboard
Commonly used for Boxes used for a variety of products
Recyclable in Ontario Accepted in almost all Blue Box programs
Commonly repurposed to make Cardboard, recycled paper products
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