Since 1970, people all around the globe have come together each year on April 22 to celebrate and support the earth, while promoting sustainability, environmental protection and green living. Earth Day is the perfect holiday for the cannabis community, as it is all about values and goals that should be intrinsic to growing this special plant. With a little bit of thought and effort, there are many ways to ensure that your cannabis crops (both large scale and home grown) are as sustainable as possible, making your growing of the green as green as it can be.
It helps that the legal cannabis industry is in its nascent stages, allowing growers to use various environmentally friendly methods that are already available to them or have been successfully utilized for growing other crops. And it just makes sense. After all, you’re not growing these therapeutic plants to simply decorate your home. Odds are, parts of the plant will end up being inhaled, ingested or applied to your skin. More sustainable methods of cultivation mean fewer to no chemicals and toxins will end up inside you or your customers.
However, when it comes to how well the industry is doing in relation to sustainability, the cannabis community remains split.
“Perhaps on the surface it seems that way, but the cannabis industry is far from sustainable,” says James Eichner, co-founder of Denver-based cannabis packaging company Sana Packaging. “For instance, nearly four percent of Denver’s energy is used for cannabis production. That’s insane! Cannabis should be grown outdoors or in greenhouses, like other agricultural crops.”
Yet, up to the north in Canada, things seem to be growing a bit greener. “Most licensed producers are building new facilities, and while doing so, they are able to incorporate energy-efficient and sustainable practices that help meet Health Canada’s strict regulations,” explains Mary-Lynne Howell, community affairs manager at The Green Organic Dutchman. “Efficiency in energy use, water consumption and growing cycles affect the bottom line, so the more efficient and sustainable you are, the more cost effective and profitable you become. As government and businesses have become more aware [and] focused on climate change and our planet, businesses [on the] whole are implementing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in [all] processes, from seed to sale.”
As with any industry, individuals and consumers will make their own decisions about how sustainable they want to be, and if consumers have any say, it will likely be companies adhering to green practices that will end up succeeding long term. But what are growers doing to try to make their grow operations and their cannabis as environmentally friendly as possible? There are a variety of green trends happening across the industry.
According to Danny Murr-Sloat, who runs AlpinStash along with his wife Kristin, when it comes to cultivation, “There is a push to use lower wattage and more eco-friendly lighting, as energy usage is a big source of carbon emissions.”
This is something that the folks at The Green Organic Dutchman are seeing as well.
“Right now, the trends in sustainable growing across the industry are focused on energy conservation, carbon emissions, renewable resources and water recycling,” says Howell. “This incorporates items such as LED lighting, recycling CO2, irrigation water collection, greenhouse facilities that maximize the use of natural sunlight, and natural products. Soon we will see efficient processing equipment, and efficient heat, power and moisture control systems.”
However, it’s not just about the plants, but how they’re then packaged for sale. “On the retail side, I’m seeing a big push toward compostable and recyclable packaging,” says Murr-Sloat. “Many dispensaries even have a recycling program for containers and will give you a discount for reusing or recycling these drams.”
In fact, sustainable packaging will be key moving forward, with consumers tired of relying on non-sustainable materials that pollute their environment. And Sana Packaging is helping to change all that.
“Most recycling facilities don’t accept cannabis packaging — even if it’s recyclable — because cannabis isn’t federally legal,” Sana Packaging’s Eichner explains. Plus, all that non-recycled plastic adds to our landfills, which is one reason why Eichner is so proud of his company. According to the Sana website:
Sana Packaging designs and develops differentiated, sustainable, and compliant packaging solutions for the cannabis industry using 100% plant-based hemp plastic and 100% reclaimed ocean plastic.
Interested in growing greener? Here are three ways to do so, according to the experts we spoke with.
1.Grow Outdoors (If You Can!)
Almost everyone we spoke with said that outdoor growing is the most sustainable option, as opposed to indoor growing. Plus, in addition to saving energy, it can also save you cash. “I would recommend you take your plants outside as the season allows and use the natural sun and soil to your advantage,” says Howell. “There is no need to hide your plants in a basement during the warm weather, and you will increase your yields. In the winter, change your lighting systems to LED.”
2.Use Sustainable Nutrients
Remember, what you put into your plants will eventually end up inside you, so be conscious of the nutrients you use. Murr-Sloat notes that synthetic, salt-based nutrients can be harsh on the environment. “Many are strip mined out of the earth, often in underdeveloped countries under terrible working conditions,” he explains. “Add to this the carbon footprint required to ship these products to America and then mix and bottle them, and you’re talking about a lot of waste. The other issue with synthetic nutrients is their ability to taint the groundwater via runoff and cause damage to aquatic ecosystems.”
Murr-Sloat suggests using natural and organic cannabis nutrients made from “the waste of other industries, such as bone meal from the meat industry, and crab and shrimp meal made from the shells of shellfish.”
3.Try New Things!
There are a lot of new ways to grow greener (integrated pest management, coco coir, etc.) that may be intimidating to new growers. However, just because a greener way of doing things sounds strange or difficult, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. If you’re a home grower, talk to larger-scale growers or licensed producers that utilize environmentally friendly cannabis growing methods you are interested in. Also, many of the experts recommended taking a local cannabis-centric course or workshop, if there are any available in your area. That way, you’ll connect with experts who have likely lived through your specific cultivation conditions.