When only the flowering tops, leaves and THC-rich parts of the cannabis plant are used in production, the remaining cannabis stalks are rarely utilized, even though they are an abundant source of sustainable fiber and materials. Most companies do not focus solely on how to recycle the excess cannabis plant material, which is often wasted in the process. However, companies are helping redefine how cannabis and hemp are disposed of, working to repurpose cannabis waste and turn it into valuable materials.
This waste is most commonly seen through dispensary or production facility raids. Cannabis operations that are out of compliance with state law, in most cases, often lose their crops and property after a raid. Police have the authority to confiscate the cannabis and other property because of a process known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to take and keep drugs, money and equipment as long as it believed to have been used in criminal activity. If a person wants their property back, they must spend a lot of money and time proving otherwise, in addition to fighting the criminal charges.
“Although the ‘War on Drugs’ continues, some of what would normally be wasted is ending up being useful after all.”
The State of Washington, for instance, first licensed recreational cannabis farms in 2014, has since then accumulated 1.7 million pounds of cannabis waste. Most of the compostable waste ends up in a landfill, but several companies want to change the way that cannabis waste is disposed. One company, Restalk, uses organic cannabis waste and repurposes it into tree-free paper. Restalk’s paper is made out of discarded cannabis stalks instead of harvesting precious trees. Recently, the company partnered up with Emerald Family Farms, a group of eco-conscious cannabis growers in the Northern California’s Emerald Triangle. Most recycling companies have focused on hemp in the past, but the new precedent has been set by Restalk and other companies. Restalk plans on setting up processing and collection centers in every major cannabis producing region.
In Ohio, authorities report they have taken $326 million worth of cannabis across the state since 2008, mostly from the Appalachian region of Southeast Ohio, where residents have cultivated it for decades. That translates to more than approximately 326,200 plants. But even in Ohio, Maratek Environmental is recycling cannabis bio-waste from the state’s medical cannabis processors—a process which they claim can help processors recover their costs in 12-18 months.
In Colorado, the Denver Police Department recycles confiscated cannabis. Instead of burning the contraband, they partner with A1 Organics and recycle it at an organic recycling company that converts the material into organic fertilizer. According to A1 Organics, police from the nearby cities of Aurora, Commerce City, Thornton and Colorado Springs have all expressed an interest in doing the same thing. This is in accordance with state waste compliance regulations, which require growers and authorities to dispose of cannabis in a way that is friendly to the environment without being a danger to the public.
Industrial Hemp Recycling, LLC, (IHR) offers complete waste management for both hemp and cannabis waste in Colorado. IHR has been licensed since 2011 with the Marijuana Enforcement Division under the Colorado Department of Revenue. The company adheres to Colorado’s cannabis and hemp waste compliance regulations.
Sheriffs in Jackson County, Oregon end up burying plants at a local landfill (a process that involves covering the cannabis in 20 feet of trash), but the state police have found another way to recycle it by transporting seized cannabis material to a local power plant in Brooks, Oregon for incineration, which generated electricity for 4,800 homes.
Although the “War on Drugs” continues, some of what would normally be wasted is ending up being useful after all. Coordinating our efforts between both cannabis industry experts and law enforcement could provide the maximum benefit, and the end result could be a better alternative for people and the environment.