Legal marijuana could become less of a strain on Colorado’s environment if the pot industry embraces a new set of waste removal and packaging rules — but not without a three-way tug-of-war between saving money, preventing black-market sales and encouraging environmental sustainability.
Leftover marijuana plant matter isn’t your typical twigs and leaves. Because of the plant’s intoxicating properties, commercial growing operations in Colorado can’t just throw stems and unusable flower in an alley dumpster as if they were backyard tree trimmings. Marijuana production facilities must record every step of a marijuana plant’s life in the state’s seed-to-sale (and apparently post-sale) tracking system, including how all of the unused plant matter and product is mixed with such materials as sawdust, mature compost, bleach, coffee grounds, sand, glass or shredded paper — as long as the marijuana-to-waste ratio is 50/50.
But this mix doesn’t just kill composting capabilities, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment; it doubles the waste that marijuana businesses send to the city dump, landfills and pick-up services. In 2019, CDPHE data notes, 3,650 tons (7.3 million pounds) of marijuana plant waste was produced by the state’s pot industry, with that number increased to 7,300 tons in order to meet the 50/50 requirement.
Bills that successfully passed the Colorado Legislature in 2018 and 2019 give the state Marijuana Enforcement Division the right to create recycling programs for fibrous and packaging waste in the pot industry, but the MED has found that a majority of marijuana businesses aren’t taking advantage of the new rules. So on August 11, the department held a stakeholder meeting of pot-industry members and state officials to discuss ways to increase participation.
“How can we dispose of plant waste in a more sustainable way while maintaining the original MED intent of safety and compliance without criminal-market diversion?” CDPHE small-business consultant Kaitlin Urso asked during the meeting. “I know that there are a lot of security requirements already in place at these facilities, and dumpsters are required to be locked. But could we come up with more secure protocols, pick-ups and manifests to ensure compliance and security?”
Urso, who led a
, brought up the California approach, which allows marijuana manufacturers to dispose of their cannabis waste without diluting it with other trash and, in some cases, reuse and recycle their leftovers. However, Colorado regulators and law enforcement authorities want to ensure that marijuana waste won’t be at risk of theft or reuse for black-market purposes, so she suggested that the state consider lowering the waste…