Sana Packaging is a bold new venture which seeks to revolutionise the packaging industry with sustainable hemp products. We met their Co-Founder & CSO James Eichner in California last June to talk about Millennials, the environment and the future of cannabis. Read on!
Firstly, what do you guys do?
Sana Packaging designs and develops differentiated, sustainable, and compliant packaging solutions for the cannabis industry using 100% plant-based hemp plastic. We believe packaging should be regenerative and help heal the environment throughout its lifecycle. We’re also proud to be a “Made in the USA” company because we support domestic agriculture and domestic manufacturing.
Why is hemp a great option for packaging?
50% of plastic is made for disposable products, like packaging. This is unfortunate because most plastics are petroleum-based and can take up to 400 years to degrade. And even when they do degrade, petroleum-based plastics just break down to microplastics.
As far as bio-based plastics go, most bio-based plastics are made from corn. And while corn-based plastics are certainly better than petroleum-based plastics, it’s just one step in the right direction. We need to take another step in the right direction, and we believe hemp is an ideal feedstock for bio-based plastics.
With its rapid growth cycle, hardiness, and versatility, hemp provides maximum benefit with minimal impact on the environment. For instance: hemp requires about a third of the water corn does and none of the pesticides; hemp grows to maturity in around 80 days while corn takes upwards of 100 days; and hemp contains 15-20 precent more cellulose than corn.
Hemp also presents a superior carbon sequestration potential as 1 metric ton of hemp sequesters 1.5 metric tons of carbon. Furthermore, hemp does all this while remediating the soil so it's an ideal rotational crop.
Lastly, the US industry is growing over 30% per year and has the potential to reinvigorate stifled agricultural communities across the country.
Give us your two minute origin story – why, when, who, how, where?
Ron and I met in Colorado during our MBA program at CU-Boulder and Sana Packaging started as a project for a Sustainable Venturing class. Basically, we were frustrated cannabis consumers. We both had all this cannabis packaging waste piling up in our apartments and we knew there had to be a better way. We’ve been working on Sana Packaging for about two years now.
When we met in California back in June, we talked about how it’s likely to be at least three years before there is the demand and the infrastructure to produce pure hemp cellophane (which is needed for see-through wrappers). What do you think would expedite this process, if anything?
The federal legalization of hemp would probably speed things up in the US. This might happen as soon as 2019 if the 2018 Farm Bill passes in its current state. That said, we’re not holding our breath because, you know, US Congress…
Regardless, it’s not a matter of reinventing the wheel but it is a matter of adapting existing technology and processes to a new feedstock. This will take time and money in any scenario.
Can I ask what the average age of your team is? Our perspective is that despite all the shade that gets thrown at Millennials, this generation is stepping up with creativity and imagination to solve the problems which older generations haven’t been able to. Have you encountered other companies like Sana who you feel are also trying to make widespread systemic change?
Ron and I are both 29. That said, our team probably has a more even age distribution when you take into account our Advisory Board, Board of Directors, and all the other folks we work with to make Sana Packaging a reality.
And yeah, ageism sucks. I think the biggest difference between Millennials and older generations is that the negative impacts of climate change are no longer some far off thing that might not happen in our lifetime. It’s very real, it’s already happening, and the time to take action is now. We don’t have a moment to spare. This reality weighs on Millennials and Generation Z much more than on older generations.
Fortunately, there are a lot of people – both young and old – who are dedicating themselves to making a positive impact and protecting our planet for future generations. We were just at the VERGE Conference, which is put on by GreenBiz, and it was so inspiring to see so many people, startups, and corporations together discussing the principles of a circular economy and how to reach true circularity.
At the moment the whole “ban plastic straws” thing is really big. Here in Australia, there was recently a widespead initiative to “ban plastic bags” from supermarkets, which the main players have just done a U-turn on. A lot of this seems very minimal when considered in the context of the ecological challenges we’re facing over the next few decades. If you were elected President of Earth tomorrow, what are three waste-related changes you would bring in?
Plastic straw bans are a fascinating phenomenon. It’s true, plastic straws account for less than 0.03 precent of the 8 million metric tons of plastics that enter our oceans each year. That said, we think plastic straw bans are great because they’re shining a much-needed light on the greater problem of ocean plastics. Plastic straw bans and movements like National Geographic’s “Planet or Plastic?” campaign have made plastic waste front-page news and that’s great. Public education is the first step towards change.
Hmmm… If I were President of Earth I would do a lot of things haha. But as far as waste-related changes go, I would (i) ban the use of petroleum-based materials for single-use products, (ii) build up our global waste management infrastructure and make recycling and industrial composting mandatory, and (iii) declare ocean plastic a global crisis and make cleaning our oceans a global priority.
Things are moving very quickly on your side of the planet in relation to the cannabis space. What do you currently find most exciting, and what are your three big predictions for the next five years?
Cannabis is definitely an exciting space to be in. However, instead of making predictions how about I tell you what I hope to see in the industry’s future?
As legalization continues to spread, some people are quick to forget that at its core cannabis is a social and environmental justice movement. The people getting into cannabis to make a quick buck aren’t helping anyone. We can’t forget our roots in the “back to the land” movement of the 1970s and we can’t forget all the people and communities that suffered – and continue to suffer – because of our government’s “war on drugs.”
With that in mind, I hope to see a focus on (i) protecting small cannabis farmers, (ii) increasing sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices, and (iii) making the industry more diverse and not excluding the communities that suffer – and continue to suffer – because of the “war on drugs.”