Tree House offers a $4 joint to those who return plastic packaging
One Massachusetts cannabis retailer is encouraging customers to recycle the plastic that encases certain products by offering them a $4 pre-rolled joint for every piece of packaging they return.
In the heavily regulated cannabis industry, nearly every product is required to come in child-resistant packaging that is typically made of plastic. Most of that plastic is not recyclable and ends up in the trash or tossed on the ground.
“Living in the city of Boston, I saw these [pre-roll] tubes all over the streets, they’re everywhere,” said Ture Turnbull, who with Wes Ritchie owns Tree House Craft Cannabis dispensaries in Pepperell and Dracut. “So we looked at what needed to be done, what the industry was doing to address this, what the policies around this were, and what opportunity there was for us to do right.”
Tree House’s recycling program incentivizes consumers to bring back their used packaging to the dispensary. Specifically, customers can return the plastic pop-top tubes that hold pre-rolled joints and the square-lidded containers that hold marijuana flower. For each piece of packaging customers return, they can buy a pre-rolled joint for $4–a price that yields savings ranging from $4 to $8 depending on what joint is on offer.
The brand of the pre-roll currently being offered is the company’s own Yellow Brick Road. Since May, when Tree House started the program, customers have returned more than 6,000 pieces of packaging and the company has offered an equivalent number of $4 pre-rolls.
“We literally had to put our money where our mouth is to create this incentive program because it has a monetary hit to us, but a benefit to the consumer, and that’s the only way we could actually see it taking off, to incentivize it,” said Turnbull. “This is the first try at a serious program that says: Let’s take the plastic and recycle it. Let’s take this environmental concern seriously.”
Tree House uses the recycled packaging in two ways. If the packaging is intact, it’s reused to package new products. If not, the company commissions artwork for its dispensaries that incorporates the plastic.
“Ture and I are actively doing outreach to plastic-using companies, including companies that use plastic for the soles of their shoes, for example, and we are confident that we will be able to establish partners as this program scales,” said Ritchie.
As a relatively new industry, cannabis is very heavily regulated and packaging rules are very stringent. Cannabis products must be sold in child-resistant packaging that is opaque and plain in design. Plastic is the material of choice for most of the packaging because it is opaque, child-resistant, and cheap. A study done by Grand View, a San Francisco-based research company, showed that plastic was the most popular material for cannabis packaging in the country.
For pop-tops and square-lidded containers, the two types of packaging that Tree House is targeting with their recycling program, there aren’t cost-effective, recyclable packaging alternatives when you factor in the child-proofing and the labeling requirements.
Turnbull and Ritchie would like to see other dispensaries adopt their recycling program and are seeking support from the Cannabis Control Commission and the governor’s office to scale their program.
“We hope that the CCC and other folks who do care about the environment, which a lot of these regulatory agencies do, can say okay, let’s do something at scale,” said Ritchie.
Turnbull suggests marijuana regulators may want to take another look at the packaging regulations. “The intent of the law was to treat us like alcohol, but then it created a different space that is more regulated and higher taxed,” said Turnbull. “We’re in the most highly regulated industry next to the transportation of nuclear waste. And I don’t know if it needs to be quite so stringent.”
Noting Gov. Maura Healey’s ban on the purchase of single-use plastic containers by state agencies, Turnbull and Ritchie urged the governor’s office to take a similar approach with cannabis.
“Don’t be afraid of cannabis,” Ritchie said. “Cannabis operators have been saying this to politicians since the legalization campaign. Engage with us. We are real business owners who are generating a lot of taxes. Look at our needs. Prioritize [eliminating] single-use plastic in this industry. Let’s work together to see what other solutions there are.”