When it comes to eco-friendly packaging, Paper Tube Co. (https://papertube.co/) has made quite a name for itself with it's unique packaging for major brands both inside and outside of the cannabis industry. Feel State Florissant budtender Jeff had the opportunity to chat with Paper Tube Co. founder David Molo about the company and how they are working to make a difference.
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Jeff: How long has the Paper Tube Company been in business?
David: We’ve been around for quite a while. Since 2013. We’ve been making tubes in one form or another. The cannabis packaging for us has really existed, especially in the form of child resistant packaging, for a couple of years.
Jeff: What ended up leading you to the cannabis industry?
David: Well, we had a lot of demand. Basically, we had customers coming to us looking for sustainable packaging, because as you know, the cannabis industry is pretty much all littered with plastic, especially single use plastic. A lot of it is in circular or cylindrical forms, so paper tubes naturally fit that vibe.
Jeff: What kind of hurdles did you encounter along the way?
David: The major hurdle is being able to produce a completely plastic free package, because, as you know, child resistance requires a snap or a mechanism or a track or something that plastic solves really, really well. Paper is flexible and freeform, so it's very difficult to create, especially in a paper tube, something that is essentially plastic free. So our child resistant packaging does have a plastic cap, but 95% of the packaging is paper.
Jeff: How do you find your balance between being sustainable and child resistant?
David: I think it's as sustainable as you can get. I mean short of creating something that's super complex. There’s always a pyramid of cost, complexity and user experience. So, as soon as you want to create something that is more sustainable, you probably have to increase the cost. You have to make something that may be so complex in its construction that it is difficult to assemble, therefore doubling or tripling the cost where it's no longer a viable product. Especially because the price of cannabis had been going down over the years and it's kind of taking mainstream form, the product on the shelves. I think that is going to continue to happen. It's going to follow a standard product lifecycle like the rest of the things that are novel at first, but as they become widely available and widely used the competition and the demand from the consumers, and sort of the volume expectation drives the price down. So it's going to become another consumer product essentially and I think the price point for packaging has to fit that.
Jeff: What would you say are the biggest problems currently with cannabis packaging?
David: I think the majority is plastic.
Jeff: You mean over use of plastic?
David: I would say it's an overuse of plastic. I think the bigger problems are on the regulations side rather than the packaging or the components. Given that you can’t change much about the regulations, you have to start where you can. The only place that I can look at it is through the eye of packaging. We’re not cultivators or growers, so I'm sure there’s a bunch of problems on that side. Maybe transportation across state lines, and I sure there's a whole bunch of problems but the only ones I can see are on the packaging side is plastic.
Jeff: In your tubes you use 100% virgin pulp. Do you have any plans in the future to incorporate hemp?
David: You know, we've looked into it. The problem again goes back to cost. We found a few suppliers of hemp. It's generally available outside of China, because China is the main production location. Given that China’s stance on cannabis is a ‘no’, and hemp is a byproduct of cannabis generally not grown in China, you have to import it from somewhere. Given that the shipping costs have skyrocketed, then the import of hemp into China for production purposes is not really sustainable.
Jeff: I’m presuming American hemp is too expensive right now?
David: The hemp itself may not be too expensive but the import of it and the logistics of bringing it to a location where you are then converting it into paper tubes is not sustainable, in our opinion. We’ve looked into it. It's been a long term search for a supply chain. The other thing I think that hemp packaging specifically has a hurdle with is the way the fibers of hemp are made. They're kind of loosely bound so the paper has to be really thick in order for the thing to not fall apart in your hands. Thick paper doesn't really form very well around cylindrical objects. It works well for boxes and maybe bags where it is a single sheet. But anything rigid is very difficult to make out of hemp because of the qualities of hemp and hemp paper. Do we want to use hemp? Yes. Do we use it now? No.
Jeff: Are your products multi-use or single-use in design?
David: Both. They’re generally multi-use. Many customers can reuse the tubes for a variety of projects. A lot of people give them to kids for crafts and arts. Some have tubes on their desks for pencils. Some keep them for regifting and shipping. A lot of people keep the tube and reuse it for other products like jewelry.
Jeff: What percentage would you say cannabis packaging accounts for your total business?
David: Currently, I would say just under 50%.
Jeff: That’s pretty healthy given the variety of products you offer.
David: Certainly. We do a lot in the cosmetics space, but a lot in the cannabis space. We have a patented product specifically designed for cannabis. We have a pre-roll size, we have a larger size for multi-pack or vape cartridges. We just had a certified test done for a much wider diameter for flower. So we’re doing some testing with tubes for flower.
Jeff: Can you explain the differences between being biodegradable and being compostable?
David: The difference is mainly in the certification. Biodegradability is a loose term used to describe how the product breaks down in a natural environment. Composability refers to the product breaking down under specific circumstances like home or commercial compost. There is an institute, or a scientific body that actually takes packaging and materials and puts them through a series of steps to see if they are compostable or not and issues a certification based on that. Biodegradability is again, basically a marketing term more than anything else. So anything that is biodegradable depends upon how long you wait. But not everything is compostable. Composability has several goals in mind. Specific outlined steps and targets. Meaning your product has to break down to 80% of its weight within 8 months or something like that. So things like paper bags made out of a single sheet of paper will break down, especially if it has no lamination on it. Rigid packaging and paper tubes, even though they are all paper and plastic free, it's hard to say whether they will break down or not. But it's a very expensive test. Biodegradability on the other hand is like, will the product break down? Yes it will. Will it break down faster than other products because it is made of paper, yeah, not even a question. If you're comparing it to plastic it's night and day.
Jeff: How does your company get involved in the sustainability movement beyond the materials you choose for your packaging?
David: We actually work with an organization called One Tree Planted. They take the money donated to them and they plant trees around the world. Depending on the time of year and what is going on in the world, we chose a location for the trees to go.
Jeff: So you can actually choose where the trees get planted?
David: Oh yeah. When California had all the wildfires, we donated to California specifically. When the wildfires happened in Australia, we donated to Australia specifically. We follow the trends and see what's going on in the world and put our money where it's most needed.
Jeff: What sets the Paper Tube Company apart from the rest of the competition?
David: Quality, and our expertise, and our attention to detail. We’re competent professionals in all aspects of that world. From the way we handle projects, to the way we work with customers, to the way we manufacture our tubes, to the way we design and consult on artwork. It's a funny thing, a lot of our customers are first time entrepreneurs or first time business owners, or it's their first product line. So we eventually go from being a tube manufacturer to like a business consultant where we help them think about SKUs and reorder points and storage and sustainability. So, we kind of handle all parts of those conversations that sometimes people learn in business school and sometimes they don’t. We are very well versed. We've been doing it long enough with all customer levels and types from Fortune 1000 companies to people making soap in their kitchen to growing weed in their backyard.
Jeff: It's got to be an adventure every day for you with the customers you see.
David: Oh yeah. Not even a question.