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The Complicated World of Cannabis Waste Generation (Part One)

Jul. 17, 2019

Part one of a two-part series on the fast-growing cannabis industry covers stringent regulations and potential challenges around cannabis waste disposal.

The cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in both the U.S. and Canada, with 2019 gearing up to be a bumper year for U.S. hemp and marijuana cultivation.

Rising consumer demand has met the legal relief of the 2018 Farm Bill, whose passage last December paved the way for legal hemp cultivation and processing across the country. The bill completely legalized hemp, which is typically used to treat pain and contains 0.3 percent or less of the intoxicating chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found in marijuana.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws broadly legalizing medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana, on the other hand, has been fully legalized throughout Canada for adult usage. Washington, D.C., and 11 states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington—also have adopted expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

This rise in production, which is expected to continue into next year and beyond, has created inevitable complications, among which is the challenge of processing cannabis and the waste it generates.

After its Cross Sector Insight Conference in June, Stifel released a report, in which Michael E. Hoffman, managing director and group head of diversified industrials for Stifel, projected a $100 billion opportunity in the U.S. [cannabis] market by 2030 (versus $7 billion in 2018). He added that “although the opportunity is significant, several complexities exist, including navigating a patchwork of regulations at the federal and state level.”

Cannabis Waste Disposal

Cannabis waste can be disposed of four different ways—via a permitted landfill, composting, in-vessel digestion or incineration. Rich Thompson, managing partner at TEC LLC, explained during a WasteExpo 2019 session titled "Cannabis Waste: A New Frontier" that cannabis waste must generally meet the following disposal requirements:

  • Must be removed from package and rendered “unusable and unrecognizable.”
  • Must be incorporated with non-cannabis waste, such as non-consumable solid wastes.
  • The resulting mixture must be at least 50 percent non-marijuana waste and should be placed in a secured waste receptacle.

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