Last Sunday, instead of going skateboarding in the surprisingly sunny April weather we've been having, I grabbed a trash bag and some rubber gloves and set out into Sodo. I know what you're thinking, and no, it wasn't court-appointed community service.
I went down to join the Sodo Green Team, a bunch of cannabis industry do-gooders who get together to pick up trash in the area around their facilities. The group is organized by Bryson Chin, a budtender at Dockside's Sodo store, and Leslie Olson, who runs eco-friendly pot farm Quincy Green. They had the idea after they, along with some other Dockside budtenders, started noticing how much weed-related trash was accumulating just in the store's parking lot. Fernando Narvaez, another Dockside budtender, said he was seeing cannabis packaging piling up every day on his walk in from the Stadium Station.
Narvaez and Chin are the cleanup's cocaptains, and they were responsible for herding the small crowd of volunteers, many of whom were Dockside employees, but which also included representatives from Goodship, the edibles company, and Solstice, the pot farm. Olson's husband and daughter, who both work at Quincy Green, pitched in as well.
Though the cleanups were inspired by cannabis packaging, we were instructed to pick up everything we could. The idea, said Chin, was to prove that pot businesses are good neighbors in general. While it was especially important to pick up pot-related trash, he said, picking up all trash was a great way to show that cannabusiness cares. I certainly appreciate the sentiment, but it'd be nicer if anyone else in Sodo shared it.
While we found plenty of the little plastic strips from the top of weed bags, a few joint tubes, and even a broken pipe, cannabis-related trash was a small fraction of the total haul. The vast majority of the trash we picked up was in the form of cigarette butts, many of which were discarded directly next to trash cans.
I guess, as Dockside budtender Jeremiah Wilhelm put it, "There are some people out there who just want to see the world burn." That may be true, but for fuck's sake, the trash can is literally right there! Butts aside, it was heartening to see that pot has made only a minor contribution to Sodo's oceans of trash.
However, it is still a noticeable one, and it is still depressing that an industry in which nearly every single producer's website makes claims of sustainability is completely awash in Mylar packaging. Quincy's packaging is 100 percent biodegradable, and they're not alone in their quest for sustainability. Raven Grass farms' cornstarch packaging is another example, as are Solstice's completely recyclable joint packs. However, they're the exceptions, not the rule. Lindsay Gatz, who handles marketing for Quincy Green, summed up the issue nicely.
"Humans don't have to smoke weed," she pointed out. "So if they are going to, they might as well not fuck up the earth while doing it."
How much plastic does the pot industry generate? A lot. Olson took data from Front Runner Analytics on average market share by packaging size, compared it to February's statewide sales, and came up with a loose calculation of how many individual packages of pot were sold. That number?
About 1.5 million plastic bags in one month. This is probably due to the fact that about 50 percent of all flower sales are single gram bags, the worst plastic-to-pot ratio available.
We're actually worse off with packaging under I-502, the legislation that legalized recreational weed, than before. While there were plenty of those stupid tiny bags with bombs or Hello Kitty printed on them floating around the unregulated market, there were just as many medical marijuana stores and conscientious dealers that would weigh out your pot from a giant jar and transfer it directly to your own smaller jar. Under I-502, that won't fly.
"Let's make sure it's sealed up and packaged eight ways from Sunday," said Olson, describing the state's approach to pot packaging. To be fair, current federal policy requires legal states to be exceedingly diligent about keeping track of pot, which would preclude any sort of bulk buying system, and about keeping pot out of the hands of kiddies, which is what the Mylar barrier is all about.
"Ultimately, when the laws change, there should be a relaxing of packaging laws," she said. "It's not to say that it shouldn't be just as carefully dispensed, but I think it would be lovely for people to bring in their own jars for flower. Ask the vendors at Pike Place. I'm the queen of 'bring your own container.'"