Child-resistant packaging plays an important role in preventing young children from accessing cannabis-infused foods and beverages—products that could potentially look appealing to them.
But safety isn’t the only factor cannabis-infused food and beverage brands should consider when selecting child-resistant packaging. Shelf life and cost have always been at the top of the list. And environmental impact, branding capability, intuitive use, and accessibility by senior consumers are also among the top concerns.
Nancy Gruskin Warner, founder and CEO, AssurPACK LLC, Englewood, CO, says these challenges are what make cannabis packaging such a dynamic field.
“There is more innovation going on in child-resistant designs for the cannabis packaging market than any other market,” says Gruskin Warner. “Child-resistant packaging started in the pharma industry, was very functional, and geared toward high-speed production. The cannabis industry is brand- and design-driven, so this is a new direction for this category of packaging.”
Selecting a Format
Format is one of the first elements to consider when selecting child-resistant packaging. Among the available options are glass bottles, flexible film pouches, blister packs, and rigid paper and plastic containers.
courtesy of Berry Global
Gruskin Warner notes there are a variety of reclosable, child-resistant rigid paper boxes on the market, but they’re not always ideal for maintaining product freshness.
“These do not typically provide any shelf life protection for edibles, so the product needs to be flow wrapped before putting it inside these boxes,” says Gruskin Warner.
Plastics are suitable for child-resistant packaging because they’re lightweight, require fewer resources to produce, and are readily recyclable, reports packaging supplier Berry Global, Evansville, IN. Polypropylene is particularly useful because of its flexibility, durability, and tolerance consistency when injection-molded.
Multilayer film pouches, meanwhile, can create a barrier against air entering the packaging and moisture leaving the product, says Arnold Heckman, CEO, Cannaline, Elkridge, MD. They also prevent any strong odors from escaping. He notes that the packaging film mix requires several different types of materials to minimize vapor and air transmission, both in and out of the packaging.
Heckman also points to ample available surface area for printing on pouches—a key consideration for branding and required regulatory messaging. Pouches also tend to be less expensive and occupy less storage space than rigid packaging.
“From the standpoint of having a lot of real estate to work with, beautiful printing capabilities, and cost-effectiveness, it’s really kind of hard to beat bags for edibles,” says Heckman.
Heckman says child-resistant packaging solutions require a two-part opening sequence to effectively keep young children from accessing the product. “Kids are good at tearing into things, but when it’s a puzzle—when you have to push and turn or push and slide—that gives them trouble,” he says.
However, the packaging’s child-resistant closures have to be easy to open for seniors, who might have less hand strength, diminished hand-eye coordination, and vision impairment. Heckman says Cannaline tests packaging with senior consumers before testing it with children.
“During testing for child-resistant certifications, if a senior can’t open it or if it doesn’t re-secure correctly, it’s an automatic fail,” says Heckman. “You have to design with the idea that not only does the senior have to open it, but it also has to re-secure it in a way that is still child-resistant.”
courtesy of AssurPACK
For its film pouches and blister packs, Cannaline developed a patent-pending polypropylene clip in house that also makes the package tamper-evident. If a senior consumer doesn’t have children in their residence, they can remove the clip and use it as a standard pouch.
Cannaline will soon introduce a new series of pouches that have minimal instructions printed inside the top of the bag, leaving the rest of the pouch exterior available for branding. “In the ideal world, you want to design a package that doesn’t require any printed instructions—or if they do, they are not on the outside of the bag,” Heckman says. “That way, you have a lot of flexibility in color choices and additional space for branding.”
Berry Global offers the Embark Cannabis Packaging line, which includes options suitable for edibles. The company’s in-house packaging design division, Blue Clover Studios, took a user-centered approach to the Embark line, balancing child-resistance with ease of use.
The designs are also certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which includes measures designed to decrease the risk of toxicity or ingestion of a substance for children under five years of age.
The Embark line includes the Case, which features a wide opening and a portable design; the Fresh, which features three compartments and a resealable film; and the Grip, which features an audible snap lock.
Some packaging options are particularly suited to different common forms of edibles. Gruskin Warner notes AssurPACK’s SecurSlide is popular among makers of small edibles, such as mints. The SecurSlide’s design is also CPSC-certified. Made with BPA-free, food-grade plastic, it opens with a squeeze and closes securely with a snap. A custom die-cut wax paper insert is also available for an Altoids-like package presentation.
AssurPACK also offers the AssurClam, a CPSC-certified, reclosable, child-resistant box made from recycled food-grade plastic. The design is available in sizes that can hold brownies, chocolate bars, cupcakes, and more.
Gruskin Warner notes that AssurPACK is working to make one its popular packages water- and air-tight to better suit edibles such as gummies, as well as offer a new, unique shape for better branding.
As the cannabis food and beverage industry expands, simply offering child-resistant packaging may not be enough to meet manufacturers’ needs.
“The cannabis industry is pushing for packaging to be more sustainable, which will drive innovation of new designs and materials,” Gruskin Warner says.
Gruskin Warner points to the use of hemp materials and bioplastics, which AssurPACK utilizes for its SecurSlide BP offering. Made with wheat straw and traditional plastic resin, it’s recyclable as No. 7 plastic. AssurPACK is also working on other offerings made with sustainable and recyclable materials instead of plastic.
courtesy of AssurPACK
While multilayer film pouches are not easily recycled, Heckman says these pouches use less material and the environmental impact of shipping pouches is less than rigid containers. So far, Heckman notes, available pouch materials that are compostable or biodegradable aren’t ideal for maintaining product moisture and trapping odors.
Cannaline’s polypropylene child-resistant clips are recyclable. Heckman added that Cannaline continues to research sustainable solutions for cannabis packaging.
Packaging suppliers themselves can also do their part to promote sustainability. Through its “Impact 2025” sustainability program, Berry Global emphasizes using post-consumer plastic and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, landfill waste, and water and energy use during production.
As the market matures, packaging suppliers will continue to work toward meeting demands for environmentally responsible materials while providing safe and reliable packaging for their customers.