Greg MacLean, who picked up some legal cannabis at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation last week, was shocked to see how much packaging was used for four grams of weed: two plastic containers, two cardboard boxes, and clear plastic casing, all enclosed in a brown paper bag. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Greg MacLean)

For most recyclable containers purchased in Alberta, you also pay a small deposit which is then returned when the bottles or cans are dropped off for recycling.

A variety of containers can be dropped off at bottle depots for refunds — except for those used to store cannabis.

Now, the agency that governs bottle depots in the province wants to welcome cannabis containers into the deposit return system, saying the move could divert plastic from landfills and stabilize declines in depot income.

"Depots are ready to accept the product," said Jerry Roczkowsky of the Alberta Bottle Depot Association (ABDA). "It's a matter of working with the manufacturers to get the system in place."

The federal Cannabis Act specifies certain criteria for cannabis packaging, such as using opaque or semi-transparent child-resistant material. That can make it hard for producers to use materials that fulfill recycling program mandates.

The association is pushing for an amendment to Alberta's Beverage Container Recycling Regulation that would let cannabis containers get dropped off at depots like any other bottles and cans.

It would also make cannabis producers responsible for managing their packaging material by "innovating, investing in, and funding cannabis package recycling solutions," as well as shifting costs from taxpayers to cannabis companies and consumers, the ABDA said.

"Consumers are so concerned today about single-use plastics, and they want to see plastics recycled. Plastic forms a significant amount of the package that cannabis comes in," said Roczkowsky.

Albertans already have one of the highest rates of beverage container recycling with two-billion containers being returned to depots in 2019 — accounting for 85.3 per cent of all containers purchased, according to ABDA.

Using info from Statistics Canada, the association estimates that around 9.8-million cannabis containers needed to be disposed of in Alberta in the first year of legalization alone.

"Industry analyst Ibis World forecasts cannabis sales to grow at an annual rate of 53.6 per cent over the next five years. If this holds true, Albertans will need to dispose of approximately 84-million cannabis containers in 2023," ABDA said.

The AGLC said it has been in talks with producers across Canada about packaging recycling programs.

It also pointed out some private recycling companies such as TerraCycle are working with licensed producers to install bins at some retail store locations, but with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some programs are now on hold.