Green is going green

by DGO Staff

How the cannabis industry in Colorado is making a shift to a more eco-friendly strategy

The cannabis industry is currently in the process of getting greener. The pressure growers are facing over their electricity use and the stress it puts on the electrical grid is continuing to increase. Waste is another issue that the industry is trying to combat. From paper and plastic waste to electric waste from vaping devices, these are all adding up.

Since cannabis is only legal in 19 states, and not federally, there are no tax breaks for installing new technologies the same way other industries can. This also means none of the federal government can fund research on how the cannabis industry can improve energy efficiency and minimize carbon dioxide emissions. Another strike against getting data to learn how cultivation facilities can determine air-emission factors, is that the EPA is barred from researching cannabis production. The only thing related to the world of cannabis that the USDA can research is hemp with no more than 0.03% THC, and that’s only on a dry weight basis. If it doesn’t meet that criteria, then they can’t research it.

Energy use

Energy use is potentially the biggest factor when it comes to environmental impact. Many indoor grow operations are set up in old warehouses that were not originally designed to be used for cultivation. Due to regulations in places like Denver, indoor growing is the only option. In other areas cannabis growers will use large scale greenhouses for their operations.

LED lighting has been one way that growers have found to cut back on their energy use and meet state regulatory standards, but they hardly see much of a difference in their electric bills. Part of the problem is that grow operations use high pressure sodium bulbs to produce heat for their grow rooms. If they switched those bulbs over to LED bulbs, they would lose that heat. Upgrading to LED bulbs to improve the heating and ventilation systems would cost millions. Once again, since cannabis is federally illegal, growers would see no tax credits or deductions for upgrading their business.

A recent study sponsored by the Sustainable Cannabis Coalition measured energy use from the grow lights, dehumidifiers, and cooling systems at two separate indoor grow facilities. The preliminary results show that they are both using two to three times the amount of energy needed for their best production.

Filtration systems

A drive around downtown Denver’s warehouse district will easily let your nose know where grow facilities are located. Terpenes, also known as ‘volatile organic compounds,’ from pine, lavender, and citrus will fill the air with their fragrance. These fragrant terpenes are not hazardous, but they are emitted from the grow facilities. Growers currently do not have to monitor the air emission output of these volatile organic compounds.

The state, counties and cities all have odor ordinances that have essentially made facilities install carbon filtration systems and odor mitigating technology to help combat the terpene and skunky odors. New molecular filtration systems, known as carbon scrubbers have shown promising results when it comes to curbing the release of these VOC releases. These systems neutralize the odors before they are released into the environment.

Water usage

Water is one of the biggest environmental impacts faced by growers. When the cannabis industry first started up
in Colorado, growers treated water by reverse osmosis. This process removes heavy metals and sodium from water before they use it on their crops. The problem with reverse osmosis is that nearly half of the treated water ends up as waste water.

There is a more recent trend of using drip irrigation to water plants as opposed to using reverse osmosis. Some of these systems even have sensors to monitor the current moisture conditions in the facility. Drip watering helps make sure the plants are not overwatered which can reduce the water usage.

Recycling waste

Another big challenge facing the cannabis industry is the waste that is created from consumer packaging, electronic waste and plant material.

Packaging waste is a big problem for the cannabis industry. Cardboard and plastic from packaging has become a problem. The use of cardboard and plastics was originally intended to help prevent cannabis products from getting into the hands of children, but policy makers didn’t really think of the environmental problems that could arise from their use. Colorado allows dispensaries to collect packaging waste for reuse and recycling. This has led to dispensaries creating loyalty reward programs for their customers who bring back clean packaging and other various materials.

 

Electric waste from vape cartridges is mounting due them being about a quarter of the cannabis market. There is currently no recycling program to properly dispose of the used cartridges or their batteries. The fear is real with the possibility of the growing popularity of vape cartridges and no way to plan to recycle them. People like the cartridges because they are easy to carry, clean and a lot less smelly than carrying buds or joints around.

The plant debris problem in Colora-do has been a little easier to deal with as of 2021. Since then, cannabis waste that has a low THC percentage is exempt from the 50:50 mixing rule. The 50:50 mixing rule means that all cannabis waste must be mixed with 50% non-cannabis waste so the cannabis waste is unusable and unrecognizable. This definitely puts a strain on growers simply trying to get rid of waste. Growers aren’t throwing out anything that has value to them.

The cannabis market in the US and Canada lead the market in this world. What happens here will probably be repeated in other countries as legalization gains more momentum worldwide.

If we can be proactive in making the industry here as green as possible, there is a good chance the world will follow.

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