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Legal marijuana could have less of an impact on the Colorado environment if the pot industry introduces new rules for waste disposal and packaging – but not without a tug-of-war between saving money, preventing black market sales, and promoting environmental sustainability.
Leftover marijuana plants are not typical branches and leaves. Because of the plant’s intoxicating properties, commercial growers in Colorado can’t just toss stems and unusable flowers in a dumpster like they were logs in the back yard. Marijuana production facilities must record every step in a marijuana plant’s life in the state’s seed (and apparently, after-sale) tracking system, including how any unused botanicals and products are mixed with materials like sawdust and mature compost , Bleach, coffee grounds, sand, glass, or shredded paper – as long as the ratio of marijuana to waste is 50/50.
However, according to the Ministry of Public Health and the Environment, this mixture not only destroys composting capabilities. It doubles the trash marijuana companies send to the dump, landfill and city pick-up services. According to CDPHE data, 3,650 tons (7.3 million pounds) of marijuana plant waste were produced by the state potting industry in 2019, increasing that number to 7,300 tons to meet the 50/50 requirement.
Bills that successfully passed Colorado legislation in 2018 and 2019 give the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division the right to create recycling programs for fiber and packaging waste in the pot industry. However, the MED has found that the majority of marijuana companies are not taking advantage of the new rules. On August 11, the department held a stakeholder meeting of members of the pot industry and state officials to discuss ways to increase participation.
“How can we dispose of plant waste more sustainably while maintaining MED’s original intent of safety and compliance without criminal market diversion?” CDPHE Small Business Advisor Kaitlin Urso asked during the meeting. “I know these facilities already have a lot of security requirements in place and dumpsters need to be locked. But could we develop more secure logs, collections and manifests to ensure compliance and security?”
Urso, the a
Study of the carbon impact of urban marijuana cultivation
launched the California approach, which allows marijuana makers to dispose of their cannabis waste without diluting it with other garbage and, in some cases, reuse and recycle their leftovers. However, Colorado regulators and law enforcement agencies want to ensure that marijuana waste is not at risk of being stolen or reused for black market purposes. Therefore, she suggested to the state to reduce the waste quota from 50 percent to 30, 20 or even only 10 percent.
According to Urso, eliminating the 50/50 requirement would reduce around 122 tons of carbon dioxide from Colorado’s air.
And some members of the marijuana industry suggested not to add anything to the marijuana mix, which suggests they are confident they can safely dispose of their trash. “There are really no opportunities for distraction or public health [impacts] I saw that, “said Brandon Rhea, production compliance manager for Native Roots Pharmacies.” Something like in front of the camera in a locked container – I think that’s probably enough. “
Several industry representatives suggested that composting old marijuana leaves and reusing plant material for agricultural purposes is the best way to achieve sustainability. However, Dominique Mendiola, director of licensing and policy at MED, said that most real composting options “may not be heeded for fear of non-implementation.”
It is not just plant material that is causing the growing waste problem in the marijuana industry. Unique packaging and labeling regulations add layers of plastic and paper to the equation, as well as vaporizer cartridges for cannabis oil and child-resistant containers for infused products. Some pharmacies have drop boxes for recycling marijuana packaging, but they can only recycle a small portion of the packaging sold from their stores, and recycling companies require large quantities to accommodate certain containers, creating storage problems for pharmacies.
“Sometimes [there are] Different layers of packaging that come into play due to regulatory requirements, “said Ben Gelt, Chair of the Cannabis Certification Council and the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium.” Reducing a few labels would open up a number of ways here. “
Environmental sustainability will be reassessed during the MED hearings later this month and in September. New regulations are expected towards the end of 2020.
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Thomas Mitchell has been writing about everything cannabis-related for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate, and general news en route to publications like the Republic of Arizona, Inman, and Fox Sports. He is currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.