The High 5 Initiative is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to practice, promote, and enable sustainable practices and environmental conservation. We just happen to have a board made up exclusively of patients.
As patients we found ourselves, like most of you, with an overwhelming amount of plastic pop-tops spilling out of a bin in our closet that we wanted to recycle. To be clear, the goal of recycling is to reduce resource needs and minimize environmental impacts.
Recycling involves three steps, represented by the three arrows.
We had a simple question before we just tossed all of our pop-tops in our blue bin. Do I need to remove the label on the package to make sure the pop tops don’t go into the landfill? To answer this, we reached out to our local county recycling coordinator. We were then told our county sends it to another facility in Maryland. Turns out each county sends it to one of a few major collection centers. We then contacted the final sorting centers to find out it does not matter what we do to prepare the #5 plastic packaging for the blue bin, it inevitably resulted in the plastic being rerouted to our local landfills.
The blue bins at our houses are part of a recycling model called “Single Stream Recycling”. The idea of this model is to be able to put all “recyclable material” in one collection bin and eventually sort the collection into categories later in the process.
How The Single Stream path works:
Seems right, so why are the MRF’s rerouting the “recyclables” to the landfills?
In 2017 the single buyer of 72% of the Worlds recycling, China, implemented its National Sword Policy, which lowered the contamination rate of #5 plastics to 0.5% by mass. This policy change has had major effects on America’s ability to dispose of our “waste”. The Single Stream Recycling Material Recovery Facilities have been unable to meet the new contamination percentage specification standards.
In the United States, and specifically in our home state of Maryland, the inability of our MRF’s to meet the new specification has led to them being quickly overwhelmed by the backup of previously recyclable plastics.
MRF’s have almost universally chosen to reroute the material back into our local landfills as a temporary solution, though some have been shipping the material to other states. A large portion of these rerouted plastics on their way to the landfills end up in our local waterways and eventually our oceans in a phenomenon called “leakage”. The rerouting of the material as a solution is expected to continue for at least another 5 years.
To find out where the plastic goes once it makes its way to the oceans, google The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where plastic is more abundant than plankton.
Consumers are forced by regulation to take ownership of and be responsible for the proper disposal of the plastic packaging that comes with every purchase. With the knowledge that if we disposed of the material in the blue bin, it would just end up in landfills anyway, we felt like we were being forced to pollute our environment by regulation.
From March 2018 to December 2018 the Cannabis Industry had flower sales that were packaged in a low estimate of 84,000 pounds of #5 polypropylene. Between December 2018 and December 2019, that number grew to a low estimate of 154,000 pounds of plastic packaging, all of which ended up in our landfills. Keep in mind, this figure is for flower sales only and does not include pre roll sales, edibles or concentrates.
We asked how we could help. The High 5 Initiative worked with the MMCC to evaluate the totals of the #5 plastic produced by the local industry to determine the size of the issue. We brainstormed with the state, the waste industry and the MMCC to find a solution. The result of all this work was the creation of The High 5 Recycling Initiative.
The High 5 Recycling Initiative is essentially a landfill diversion path for these materials.
Retail locations sign up as Participating Collection Centers and act as the initial collection points for consumers to dispose of the plastic material.
The High 5 Initiative volunteers transport the material to our processing center where the material is ground for transport in 40,000 pound units. The 40,000 pound units are transported to local processors for final processing into a raw material. This final material is then used by local manufacturers to make non food grade items, like junction boxes and air conditioner pads.
The result of this landfill diversion model is the ability to recycle All of the recyclable material collected, keeping them out of our landfills and waterways.
Companies interested in signing up as Participating Collection Centers, click here.
Suggested steps: Empty the container, remove the label and rinse it out.
Required steps: Drop the pop-top off in the collection bin at a Participating Collection Center
Patients can help in a number of ways.
Dispensaries play a critical role as the Participating Collection Centers, providing the patients a choice to protect the environment while being a consumer.
Growers, processors, and dispensaries can try and keep the containers consistent with the #5 plastic packaging that the majority of the industry is using. This helps keep down the potential for contamination as each plastic has different properties. It is also very helpful if semi-permanent labels are used to make removal easier.
Sponsorship opportunities are also available.
To find out more, contact us.