The de-stigmatization of cannabis in recent years has brought many benefits for medical and recreational users alike. However, a recent study revealed that the carbon footprint of mass-growing cannabis, which is necessary to meet the increasing demand, is also growing rapidly. When grown in spaces that are not naturally efficient for the plant’s cultivation, the carbon footprint could be up to 400 times larger than that of greenhouse farming.
How Can Cannabis Become a Greener Industry?
It’s easy to assume that an industry which is entirely dedicated to cultivating and distributing a plant is inherently green. Sadly, decades of unsustainable practices have made it rather detrimental to nature. It’s vital to identify and accept the primary causes of the problem.
Flower production is water, energy, and resource-intensive. There are however, many actions all parties involved can take to achieve a much more sustainable cannabis industry.
What Are the Main Sustainability Issues in the Cannabis Industry?
The cannabis industry as a whole is in its infancy stage when it comes to eco-friendly practices. Below are only some of the sustainability struggles that add to the industry’s current, adverse environmental impact:
Cannabis grow houses need to use high-intensity lighting, which — aside from driving photosynthesis — produces a lot of heat. That’s why farmers need to use intricate HVAC systems to keep an optimal atmosphere for the plants to thrive and prevent them from overheating.
It’s no surprise cannabis indoor cultivation requires up to 1% of the total U.S. electrical output each year. This percentage probably doesn’t look like much at first glance. However, it means the industry uses the same amount of energy needed to power up 1.7 million American homes — and that’s only during the production stage.
Most cannabis producers use certain substances to keep insects or other organisms that may harm cultivated plants at bay. The most common are:
- Disinfectants to prevent bacterial growth
- Insecticides to control vermin
- Compounds to control mice and rats
- Fungicides to prevent mold and mildew
These chemicals are sometimes sprayed onto the crops and eventually absorbed by the soil, causing more harm than good. Pesticides might also be harmful to the consumer’s health.
Excessive Water Use
Most cannabis farms don’t have the infrastructure to store enough water for irrigation. Each plant requires two to six gallons of water daily, meaning growers need to stock up to 10,000 gallons to meet their daily needs. Most producers resort to exploiting natural water resources to water their plants at a lower cost.
Legislation regarding post-harvest cannabis plant disposal is also potentially eco-harmful. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still considers it hazardous, so they prompt producers to “disguise” the plant before throwing it out to render it unrecognizable. Growers then are forced to mix cannabis with other types of waste.
The “camouflaging” process often involves bleaching and adding other chemicals to the plant. That’s why cannabis waste is often unsuitable for composting. Consequently, a significant percentage ends up being incinerated or in a landfill.
The law requires producers to follow specific packaging regulations. Unfortunately, that means most products need to be packaged in single-use plastic, which needs to be:
These characteristics often require additional plastic seals and layers that contribute to the plastic pollution affecting our oceans.
What Proactive Solutions Can Lead to a Greener Cannabis Future?
While it might be a complicated endeavor, it is not impossible to adopt more eco-conscious practices within the cannabis industry. Many cannabis producers and entrepreneurs are already taking matters into their own hands. Below are some of the actions they’re implementing:
Using Solar Energy
Not only does this measure reduce carbon emissions, but it can also save cannabis farmers a hefty amount in warehouse operating costs. Additionally, some states currently offer solar incentives. This eco-friendly action is a win-win scenario all the way.
Switching to LED Lighting
Another solution to reduce energy usage and costs by up to 70% is to use LED lights. These lamps might be a bit more expensive, but they also last longer and don’t require much maintenance. In addition, LED lights produce a lot less heat, which means farmers might not need such complex HVAC systems to keep their plants happy.
Regulating Water Usage
Farmers can reclaim most of the water they use to aid the cannabis growth process. Farmers can take advantage of reverse osmosis and close circuit desalination systems to purify up to 22,000 gallons of the vital liquid daily. That means minimal unnecessary exploitation of the local streamwater.
Incorporating Green Packaging
The cannabis packaging legislation can be pretty restrictive, but manufacturers might be able to circumvent it in some cases. They will still have to resort to single-use plastic when necessary. Yet, whenever possible, they can take advantage of durable, recyclable materials like:
- Hemp plastics
- Recycled plastics
Practicing Regenerative Farming
With each crop, cannabis growers strip the soil from its natural nutrients — which renders it useless with prolonged exploitation. That’s why farmers are opting for more sustainable methods instead of artificially replenishing the soil. Some eco-friendly planting and harvesting practices are:
- Collecting only during the right season
- Switching up cropping spots
- Avoiding unnecessary pesticides
- Steering clear from artificial fertilizers
Developing Alternative Waste Management Measures
There are some new advancements to help farmers avoid throwing cannabis and hemp residues into landfills. One of them is producing hempcrete — a durable, carbon-negative construction material that upcycles the cannabis fibers.
Hempcrete offers many perks like:
- Moisture resistance
- Carbon footprint reduction
- Structural strength
Are You Looking for Cannabis R&D Consulting Services?
The legal cannabis industry is fairly new and still has a lot of room for improvement. Luckily, producers and manufacturers are starting to realize the importance of going green. If you’re a cannabis entrepreneur, you can benefit from talking to a cannabis consultant to better understand which eco-friendly practices you can implement.
M Consulting Experts provides cannabis consulting services to help you navigate this ever-growing industry and avoid major complications. We’re here to solve all of your general or project-specific questions. Contact us today!