Cannabis is traditionally thought of as a “green” product, and to a considerable extent, this is true. With the rise of cannabis gardens employing sustainable cultivation methods, these emerald beauties hold the potential to become greener than ever. Still, the harrowing reality of the cannabis industry’s carbon footprint can’t be ignored.
You know those things that your weed comes in? The tube that sort of looks like a pill bottle but instead you squeeze the sides and the top makes that pleasant “pop” sound as the dank aromatics of your herbal remedy fills the air? Yeah, those things. Where do they go when you’re all done? A pile under the bed, stuck between couch cushions? The recycle bin? The trash? (Please, do not throw them in the trash.)
The Anatomy of a Pop Top Weed Container
Those plastic pop top containers that hold your grams and ounces cannot be recycled just anywhere. Take one of your typical cannabis containers and flip that bad boy over. On the bottom of it, you will notice a #5 inside the recycling symbol with a little “PP” inscribed. Almost anything plastic has a similar symbol with a number to identify the type of plastic and how it can be recycled.
Welcome to the world of plastics. The recycling symbol system includes seven types:
- Polyethylene terephthalate, or #1 plastics (better known as polyester), have gained widespread use in garments thanks to the wrinkle-free nature of its fibers.
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE) are #2 plastics and the most widely used in the world. This versatile polymer has the simplest chemical structure and is often made into plastic grocery bags, water and juice containers, shampoo bottles, garbage bags, cereal box liners, and many, many more items.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are #3 plastics — the second most used and predominantly found in toys, cling wrap, food jars, cleaning bottles, and shower curtains.
- Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is your #4 plastic, which is used to coat paper milk cartons, make dry cleaning bags, and those thin, flexible water bottles.
- Polypropylene, or #5 plastics, comprise most of your pantry and fridge. They’re typically used to hold ketchup, yogurt, cottage cheese, Brita filters, and yes, the pop tops that house your buds.
- Plastics made from Polystyrene are classified as #6, they’re most recognizable by the trade name Styrofoam (the bane of the Earth’s oceans). Essentially, it’s plastic puffed up with air and found in disposable food containers as well as egg cartons. These guys are especially challenging to recycle because of their thermalizing feature, which makes them able to withstand high temperatures.
- And #7 accounts for all other plastics, of which there are thousands.
So, what are the basic characteristics of pop top containers at the molecular level? First of all, they are resistant to chemical reactions on contact. They also have an ideal balance of elasticity and toughness, which accounts for the lovely “pop” that occurs when you squeeze the sides without cracking or breaking the container. They also offer a significant amount of fatigue resistance, which is why these ganja tubes retain their shape, even after being lodged between your headboard and bedroom wall. Finally, #5 plastics are excellent insulators, which in theory, protects your buds from oxidation — something you want to avoid when it comes to cannabis. Polypropylene can be transparent thanks to its high transmissivity (ability to be see-through), which is why #5 plastics come in a wide range of colors.
The life cycle of your typical pop top
Insulation and transmissivity are great features for bud holding, but what happens to the container after you smoke all of its contents? Here is a breakdown of the most common scenarios.
Scenario 1: It got lost
Let’s be real. Once all the glorious contents of your pop top container are up in smoke, the container that was once a home for your medicine immediately decrease in value. So much so, that it may find its way into complete obscurity and abyss. Describing the lost pop top container as ending up in “the abyss” is not an exaggeration since the misplaced container will eventually exist indefinitely in a landfill.
Scenario 2: I put it in the recycle bin like a good citizen
So what if you just throw it in the recycle bin? Although reasonably the better alternative to it getting lost or thrown away, there are a few kinks to tossing it in with your other recyclables. The #5 plastics fall into the gray-area of recycling that requires them to go to a facility for proper sorting. Most recycling centers use machines to sort their recyclables, so placing incorrect items into the general recycling bin could cause problems for your facility’s machines.
Scenario 3: Oops, it’s in the trash can
This is the worst option. It’s one thing to accidentally lose an empty pop top container, but to willfully condemn your weed container to a landfill is not in the spirit of cannabis.
Scenario 4(20): Repurposed into something else
Our dependence on plastics is complicated and the recycling system is different per municipality, so the cannabis community will have to do what we have always done best — become more creative. Here are a few ways you can repurpose those pop tops and keep them from becoming negative points for the cannabis industry’s environmental footprint.
Mini Succulent Pots
Your pop top began its duty as a container of life, let it continue as such. Succulents and cacti are the best choices for this pop top repurpose as they need little water and space to live.
First, poke holes through the bottom of the container so the excess water can drain. Then, fill your once-weed-holding container with soil and plant your little friends inside. This little repurpose works for any size pop top and can also immortalize your favorite strains if you keep the label attached. (Which you should, it adds character.)
Whether you’re a makeup artist, painter, or both, if you blow trees down by the ounce or half-ounce, you now have the perfect brush organizer. Repurpose your pop top containers for a paintbrush or makeup brush organizer, or fill them with water to use for on-the-go brush cleaning.
Headphones, phone chargers, and other electronic accessories that like to tangle into themselves can tuck neatly away with this cannabis-creative solution. Wind up those pesky-but-essential-to-life cords and store them in what once held your precious ganja.
Especially great for smaller pop tops that can only hold a few grams, put your jewelry in a pop top container and keep those tiny studs safe and sound.
Loose Leaf Tea
Replace one set of leaves with another. If you’re a tea-head in both the colloquial and brew-loving sense, then you have the perfect multi-purpose containers.
It rattles around in the cup holders of your car yet is nowhere to be found after you park at the meter. Gather up your loose change and put that coinage in one easy-to-access spot. Disclaimer: if you’re planning on keeping this pop top revamp anywhere in your vehicle that isn’t the trunk, be sure to clean any flower residue off and consider peeling the sticker off as well. Better safe than detained!
Swap one holistic medicine for another! Especially convenient when you’re traveling somewhere and don’t want to take those big bulky vitamin containers with you. Save luggage space and place your other holistic regiment in a pop top. As with the spare change solution, if you’re traveling anywhere cannabis is prohibited, the best practice is to peel off the strain name sticker and wash thoroughly.
Words and graphic courtesy of Allena Braithwaite
Photos courtesy of Stephan Panosian