Saturday October 28, 2017

By Carmen Márquez

Cannabis & Sustainability: How Marijuana Can Go Greener Health/Science

As the cannabis industry grows, more attention is being paid to sustainable cultivation and manufacturing practices. In fact, many anti-cannabis proponents are using the environmental impact of commercial cannabis operations as a way to sway people to their side. However, there are many cannabis companies seeking to make the industry a greener place with more sustainable practices.

Ways to Improve Sustainability in the Cannabis Industry

There are basically three aspects to consider for sustainable cannabis growth: energy consumption, water usage, and waste management.

Starting with energy consumption, reports released by New Frontier Financials in 2016 estimate that cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which roughly equates to $6 billion, or 1.7 million homes. Most of this energy is used to supply high-intensity lamps used for indoor growing operations.

These type of lamps consume copious amounts of power and generate a lot of heat. This subsequent heat creates the necessity for HVAC systems to keep the plants from overheating, hiking up the already enormous power bill. Some cannabis growers opt for on-site power generation, mostly coal or gas based, in order to reduce their electricity bills but these methods are big sources of CO2 emissions.

LED Lighting

To combat high-energy output, a solution that many cannabis cultivators are implementing is LED lighting. Although it may be a larger investment up front, LED lights generally have longer lifetimes, require hardly any maintenance, produce minimal to no heat and are over 60%-70% more energy efficient for the same number of lumens produced.

Another benefit of switching to LED technology is less need for nutrients and fertilizer because of the water evaporation rates in relation to the temperature that the plant, soil and water contain. EverGrown Northwest, located in Olympia, WA, implemented LED and induction lighting to create sustainable growth techniques along with great energy savings that get passed on to retail partners and eventually to their customers.

Sustainable Water Usage

Water is a necessity for us all, and cannabis is a thirsty plant. Depending on the source, we can estimate that a total of 2-6 gallons of water per plant, per day are needed for cultivation – about twice as much as a wine-grape vineyard.

Cannabis grower groups and the Small Farmers Association are pushing growers toward goals of 0.5 to 1 gallon per plant, per day. Other than the amount of water needed for healthy cultivation, we need to place more consideration on how the amount of pesticides and unbalanced pH in wastewater affects treatment plants.

Many cultivators have massive reverse osmosis systems in place.

Closed circuit desalination (CCD) and reverse osmosis (RO) systems are ways to reclaim roughly 75%-97% of the water used in the in the growth allowing reuse and stablishing clean water if/when it goes to waste. Kind Love, a medical marijuana grower in Denver, CO is implementing this the CCD system, which will produce up to 22,000 gallons of purified water per day introducing used water, resulting in 97% recovery of its wastewater.

Effective Waste Disposal

Seed to sale tracking implementation in legal markets allows cannabis companies to accurately track all aspects of their plants. And while processors, cultivators and dispensaries are disposing of waste correctly per state laws, much of that waste just ends up in landfills.

According to The Stranger, 1.7 million pounds of plant waste was created by Washington State's legal marijuana industry since 2014. This issue comes from the fact that many composters decided to follow federal law and not accept any cannabis waste, so all local generators are forced to just put it on the garbage.

However, many of cannabis generators are creating their own composting material on site and reintroducing the plant waste to the production.

Some dispensaries are working toward improving this process. L’Eagle, a Colorado dispensary, focuses on certified organic, sustainable agriculture and a zero waste process. L’Eagle is the first dispensary to receive the certifiably green designation by Denver’s Cannabis Sustainability Work Group, recognizing the use of environmental resources and business management practices. The working group promotes non-regulatory sustainability strategies, best management practices manual, the certification does not yet address cultivation standards.

The Future of Cannabis Sustainability

All in all, there are many businesses within the cannabis industry aiming to promote sustainable and green practices. And while it may take a while for these practices to be adopted on a wide scale commercial level, at least the conversation has been started. In fact, there are even advocacy groups you can join today to do your part in spreading sustainability awareness.

The Cannabis Sustainability Workgroup is a great organization that hosts sustainability symposiums to help educate attendees on the latest tools, techniques and technologies for efficient and safe cannabis production. The group is a big factor in sustainable thinking within the cannabis industry and showcases top experts from across the country presenting on the industry’s key environmental challenges and best management practices.

Whether you cultivate cannabis or not, there are many great ways to get involved in helping cannabis become greener. So get out there today and help make a difference!

Carmen Márquez Carmen Márquez

Carmen Márquez is a Mexican electronics engineer with a passion for sustainability, technology and art. Carmen is also the co-founder of a green tech smart housing startup that aims to allow the user to reduce their ecological footprint and billing with IoT and mobile development.


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