The sustainability problem in cannabis is no secret, and packaging is one of the industry’s biggest waste contributors. O’Neil Rudolph is Founder and CEO of cannachange, a sustainability-focused app that helps users work with dispensaries to address the cannabis industry’s packaging waste problem. “I’ve always had an interest in how tech and innovation can help push sustainability initiatives,” Rudolph recently told Ganjapreneur.
Rudolph grew up in Colorado where she was able to access medicinal cannabis when she was 18. Soon after dialing in her medical consumption the 19-year-old entrepreneur had noted the waste that her medicinal use was creating: “That regular accumulation of the waste building up made me feel like I needed to take action. I was just really surprised to find out that there wasn’t some type of program to be able to return that packaging or something more direct to do with it rather than put it in your typical recycle bin that usually goes to the landfill anyway.” Rudolph could not find a cannabis packaging return program in the states, so she set out to build an app to connect sustainability-conscious consumers with participating dispensaries.
For consumers and dispensaries, cannachange is an easy-to-use app — but for Rudolph, it’s a hands-on project. After consumers return their waste to dispensaries, cannachange tracks it through the back end hauler to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfills. Then the waste is broken down into recyclable material. Users can also track the amount of total waste they have saved from landfills with an in-app counter.
Tracking the final destination of cannabis packaging waste is made complicated by multiple factors throughout the U.S., including sometimes limited access to waste management services and varying local and state policies. The process is made especially complicated given “how strict the regulations are around shipping anything that’s ever contained cannabis, even if its fully sanitized,” Rudolph explained.
“I’ve had to build very personal relationships with different waste haulers and figure out exactly where they haul and process the waste, and if they’re separating different types of waste, so it’s very different from state to state,” she said. “I’ve had to do a lot of research with all the options so I can then present them to each dispensary.”
Finding the back-end haulers can be complicated as well, as each state manages waste differently: some states don’t even offer glass recycling, for example, and some statewide recycling policies are far less progressive than others. Additionally, some dispensaries are already in communication with a compliant recycling company. In those cases, cannachange will coordinate with them directly but most of the time, cannachange will provide any necessary waste management details to dispensaries as soon as the business verifies its profile.
Consumers and dispensaries alike can each download the app and create profiles, further facilitating the connection between consumers and participating dispensaries. Once signed up and confirmed, dispensaries receive their bin for the recyclable materials. Signing up creates a unique QR code for consumers that the dispensary scans whenever the packaging waste is returned. Each scan results in points for the user account — from there, customers can track points to go toward their next in-store purchase. Users can also purchase the cannachange reusable bag, made from 40% recycled nylon, and receive a discount at participating dispensaries when using it as their exit bag.
Rudolph hired a small team of developers who worked over the last year to build out the project. Women make up a majority of the coding team, which is important to Rudolph who would like to see more women of color in the tech space.
cannachange is currently operating in Louisiana and the company is looking to build more dispensary relationships in other states as well as Canada. Initial growth will take time and effort because the model isn’t universally applicable, especially in the U.S.
During these first months of operation, Rudolph has also been working on opening up the program to sanitizing and trade-in programs — some dispensaries in Colorado and Oregon are interested in sanitizing and re-using glass jars, for example, and a dispensary in Maine is working on proprietary compostable packaging.
Rudolph credits her older brother and role model for inspiring her to make her idea into a business:
“My biggest realization was that if I was having these ideas that I could validate and recognize they could make a big impact, my mind wanted to do something with them. Not just think about them and ponder on them, but actually execute them — and if I didn’t, I could never have known what could have happened and how much of an impact it could have.
“Really, considering that and understanding that most of the time, executing your ideas is worth the risk of them potentially just not working out. It doesn’t hurt to try, and you never know where it could go until you try and do something with them.”
To learn more about cannachange check out cannachange.co or download the app on IOS or Android.