Pot Shops Polluted with Plastic
by Lucas Warner
When marijuana was illegal in Oregon, people stored it in much more sustainable ways. Stoners had that MacGyver quality to see something and turn it into a container to store their flower. Some used plastic bags until there were holes in them, Altoid cans were washed out and used, mason jars were common, even magazine pages were torn out and folded into baggies.
Now that the plant is legal, regulations have come down from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) which now controls the containers that are provided to dispensaries to give to customers. These containers must be childproof and opaque, according to the OLCC. Most of the packaging that is handed out by dispensaries is plastic, and much of it is not recyclable.
At most dispensaries in Oregon, after buying marijuana, the budtender will put the product in a plastic pop-top container or a plastic bag that is not see-through. If the plastic bag is see-through, then it must be put into a plastic bag that is opaque. This is a process that is required by law but not firmly enforced.
“We have about 30 boxes filled with pop-tops in the back,” said Alex Traylor, a manager at Eugene OG, located on Franklin Boulevard, near the University of Oregon. “We can’t recycle them when people bring them back because they [OLCC] considers it medical waste. Once weed touches it, we can't do anything with it.”
Eugene OG was cleaning out pop-tops with an air compressor, relabeling them and reusing them, but this did not comply with OLCC regulation. They are also encouraging customers to invest in Re:stash, an OLCC compliant container, made of glass with a childproof lock and rubber to make it opaque.
This is typical of most dispensaries in Eugene. For example, Cannabliss & Co.’s dispensary at The Sorority House used to have a recycling program but had to quit for similar reasons. The Sorority House has recently stopped using pop-tops and switched to gold plastic bags. Employees are encouraged to give suggestions to make the shop more environmentally friendly.
“Underneath the house, there are still bags of pop-tops we can’t get rid of,” said Abel Quezada, a budtender at the shop.
Rosie Zbaraci has worked at Higher Grounds for six months. Since she started working at the shop, there has been a 4-foot tall, black cardboard box, labeled ‘Rēl Vape’, meant for recycling wax cartridges. It also reads ‘We care about the ENVIRONMENT. We care about the MOVEMENT.’ Yet, the cartridges couldn’t even coat the bottom of the box. It was Zbaraci’s first time opening the box.
Hush, the dispensary right next to Higher Grounds on 12th & High Street, has tried to transition to selling joints in packs of four to five and putting them into a plastic bag, as opposed to selling one joint individually in a pop-top container.
Most employees at dispensaries want to find alternatives to pop-top containers and plastic bags. Bj Harold, who works at Oregon Cannabis Outlet on Hilyard Street, grinned as he brought out a huge hemp fibber bag from the back.
“I got a pound of marijuana sent to me in this bag,” Harold said. “If farms have access to these, then I'm sure they can shrink them down, and we can use them in the shop.”
Harold also noted that on April 7 Lane County is having a ‘Plastic Roundup’ where people can take their containers and recycle them as long as they are clean and have no adhesive label.
Dispensaries are trying to remind customers that while they can't take the pop-top containers back, customers can bring back empty pop-tops when buying more weed. Traylor mentioned a customer who has two years worth of labels on a jar that holds about seven grams of flower.
Quezada gives his old pop-tops to his mother who uses them for lotion. People have used old pop-tops for starting marijuana seedlings, for spices, cord holders, or just piling up somewhere in the house. Many even end up in a recycling bin where they won’t be recycled or reused. Despite the OLCC requirements, there are many ways people can reuse pop-top containers and reduce their overall plastic use.