There are enough people talking trash about the marijuana industry. It’s time we had a real conversation about waste management practices and how we can collectively contribute to cannabis becoming the greenest industry on the planet.
From seed to sale, legal cannabis cultivation operations must document every stage of plant management, including accounting for plant material that will be thrown away, extra vegetative plants, failed clones and pruning or harvest waste. The overall quantity of waste is formidable.
Like any other agri-business, the cannabis industry can benefit from sustainable waste management practices.
Our business, L’Eagle Services, has witnessed firsthand the benefits of operating a sustainable waste management program. In Denver, landfilling is still the most common form of waste disposal for grow operations, with recycling and composting used to a lesser extent. As leaders on the cannabis world stage, we can and should do better.
Cultivation facilities should aim to reduce, reuse and recycle as much of their waste stream as possible, but the reality is we must operate within a regulatory framework that presents many hurdles to sustainable operations.
Colorado’s retail and medical marijuana rules include multiple provisions that can appear contradictory, supporting greener practices while creating hurdles for implementation. For example, the rules explicitly allow plant waste to be disposed of in a compost facility. But on the flip side, the requirement to render plant waste unusable by mixing it with other wastes can create a barrier to composting if a given facility does not have enough other compostable waste to mix with the plant material.
Despite the regulatory restrictions we face, let’s do the best we can. Minor operational adjustments — such as educating staff to waste protocols, and partnering with your waste hauler and learning about your waste options — can result in major improvements for your company’s bottom line and reduce environmental impact. Marijuana license holders should be proactive in reaching out to policymakers and government officials to determine how cannabis businesses might be incorporated into existing local sustainability programs.
In 2016, L’Eagle was the first cannabis company to meet the rigorous standards required to achieve Certifiably Green Denver recognition, which recognizes businesses that demonstrate exemplary environmental achievement in five key areas: energy efficiency, water conservation, resource management, alternative transportation and responsible business management. L’Eagle recently received renewal of the certification for a second year in a row and today it remains the only Denver dispensary — out of 160 — with the designation, continuing its sustainability and environmental leadership in the marijuana industry.
While often overlooked, recycling plant matter should never be an afterthought. At L’Eagle, bokashi fermentation is our preferred method for disposal of plant waste. Bokashi fermenting is a method of rapidly metabolizing all organic waste with naturally occurring soil microbes. It is 10 times faster than composting, produces no greenhouse gases, produces no heat and takes only seven days. We also donate the bulk of our growing medium to local co-op gardens, which has enabled us to improve landfill diversion by roughly 35% compared to last year.
At L’Eagle, our mission is to run an eco-friendly business that supports the environment and the health and wellness of our clients. Establishing a sustainable marijuana waste management plan plays a crucial role in that mission and we’ve seen the impact recycling plant material has on our surroundings, community and bottom line.
This story was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now.