Cannabis regulations are often written for the promotion of public health and safety, but unfortunately, mountains of waste have been the natural and unintentional consequence.
Organic waste, such as fan leaves, stems and stalks that contain only trace amounts of THC, typically end up in landfills and make up a large percentage of the cannabis industry’s waste stream.
Kind ReDesigned, a Denver-based cannabis waste disposal company, is pioneering the use of acidic anaerobic fermentation (bokashi) to create a paradigm shift in the way the cannabis industry views organic waste.
Depending upon whom you ask, bokashi is either a Japanese or Korean term that loosely translated means, “fermented organic matter.” Bokashi fermentation has been used worldwide for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The technique utilizes air-tight fermentation containers and earth-friendly micro-organisms to quickly break down and effectively “pickle” organic waste. Bokashi is a 100% natural way to reduce, reuse and recycle cannabis waste. It is safe for people, pets and the environment.
The process is safe, simple, fast and effective. And it requires only a very small footprint — enough room to house a few 55-gallon drums.
Waste disposal rules vary from state to state. In Colorado, for example, cannabis waste must be made “unusable and unrecognizable.” This is achieved by grinding the waste on the property of the licensed facility. The waste is collected in 55-gallon drums and inoculated with bokashi compost activator. The drums are then sealed, allowing the waste to ferment for three weeks.
Liquid generated through the fermentation process may be used as a high-quality probiotic plant food to replace petroleum-based chemical nutrients, most of which are damaging to the environment. The remaining biopulp makes wonderful cannabis composts, soil conditioners and recycled cannabis-based soils. And most important, these byproducts have very high nutritional value coupled with relatively low costs.
Generally speaking, composts are produced by allowing organic material to decompose in the open air. This results in a great volumetric reduction of organic material that would otherwise be available for soil conditioning and water retention.
With Bokashi compost however, because organic material is fermented within a closed container, the organic content and virtually 100% of the carbon are sequestered in the process. Therefore, the repurposed plant material remains available for much better soil conditioning and water retention purposes. The fermented waste re-establishes high microbial counts that are found in healthy, well-balanced soils. Bokashi-treated soil helps plants absorb nutrients and antioxidants, thereby promoting vigorous and healthy growth.
Bokashi fermentation is a very earth-friendly disposal method that recycles organic waste and diverts it from landfills. The air-tight fermentation containers virtually eliminate ground water contamination. They provide leachate control, assist in pathogen reduction and mitigate nuisance conditions such as noise, dust, mud, odors and windblown debris. The containers help reduce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, as well as bad odors such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. A reduction in emissions helps to reduce the cannabis industry’s impact on greenhouse gas formation and global warming.
Growers who embrace bokashi fermentation will likely reduce their operational costs, potentially improving profitability (all things being equal). Processed marijuana waste will end up back into the cultivation facility’s soil where plants will benefit from natural nutrients. Using bokashi to naturally rebalance microbial counts found in healthy soil, compared to the common practice of disposing soil after harvest, is a highly cost-effective and sustainable approach. Bokashi may be used as long as there is organic waste — which is to say, a long time. It’s an effort that every soil-based cultivation facility should at least consider.
Ren Gobris is the founder and owner of Cannabis Regulatory Solutions and co-owner of Kind ReDesigned. He lives in Estes Park, Colorado. The cannabis industry will continue the conversation about waste solutions at The Cannabis Sustainability Symposium in Denver on Oct. 17-18. For more information, visit www.cannabissustainability.org.