Society has a stereotypical image of the common cannabis producer: small-scale, local growers composed of hippies and artistic types who care as much about the environment as they do about the quality of their product. With legalization taking hold in an ever-increasing bevy of states, cannabis production has proliferated rapidly, becoming anything but small business. In fact, sources estimate that by 2025, cannabis production will top $23 billion in the US with up to 18,000 cannabis-related businesses opening in the last decade, creating nearly 300,000 jobs in their wake.
It is safe to say, cannabis production is big business. And with big business comes bigger problems, specifically issues of sustainability and the environment. Just what is the environmental impact of cannabis production, and how can growers and manufacturers help attenuate the ecological impact of their practices?
The Environmental Effect of Cannabis Production
Erase what you think you know about cannabis manufacturing. There are significant ecological issues with the current state of the industry. At the top of the list are carbon dioxide emissions.
Up until recently, a significant subset of producers has relied on indoor farms and growing methods to meet suitable production levels. The thought process is that higher quality plants grow indoors as variables during the plant’s growing cycle can be more accurately controlled. However, studies have shown that every kilogram of dried cannabis produced indoors results in up to 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide, making large-scale, indoor production methods as environmentally hazardous as driving an SUV.
Single-use plastic packaging is another huge challenge for the cannabis industry. As of this writing, 18 states have legalized recreational marijuana use. Cannabis-based stores are becoming a ubiquitous American landmark, which inevitably requires branding. Just as food production struggles to keep single-use plastics under control, so does the cannabis industry.
Decreasing soil quality is also of chief concern to cannabis production. Cannabis is resource-intensive to grow. Crops easily strip the soil of its nutrients and overall quality. Add in the fact that government regulations regarding crop waste disposal make it difficult to eliminate fibrous plant byproducts in an ecologically friendly way, and the cannabis industry makes a sizable impact on the earth itself.
So what can cannabis producers do to mitigate the effects of their business? A lot, as it turns out.
Countering the Cannabis Industry’s Negative Ecological Footprint
To counteract carbon emissions, growers can bite the bullet and take their operation outdoors—if the local climate allows for it. Outdoor growing allows producers to harness natural resources —like sunlight— and use it to their advantage. In the process, they save on electricity costs associated with climate controls and ventilation, drastically reducing the aforementioned carbon emissions level associated with cannabis production.
Cannabis producers must also approach their growing operations in the same vein as other commercial farmers, employing soil reclamation best practices. Crop rotation and other sustainable, regenerative farming methods can help mitigate the cannabis industry’s effects on Mother Earth.
Packaging is an easy fix for companies willing to invest in alternative packaging materials. Petroleum-based packing materials are seldom recycled despite promises to the contrary. Fortunately, a simple intervention is available. Cannabis producers can switch to biodegradable packing or recyclable glass instead of single-use plastics.
Cannabis plants are extremely useful for a wide concert of applications. Rather than disposing of fibrous waste in an expensive, environmentally damaging way, consider putting the rest of the plant to good use, from extracting cannabinoid compounds to creating your own packaging methods, to manufacturing sturdy hempcrete building materials.
MaxQ Technologies is helping cannabis manufacturers get at the forefront of this emerging national industry. That means environmentally as well as economically. For more information on MaxQ Technologies, or emerging market trends, please contact us today.