Black Market Fears Hamper California Cannabis Waste Recycling Efforts

AWhile American cannabis has grown from a cottage industry to a $25 billion-a-year commercial enterprise that employs 428,059 people nationwide, the product weed has become often bears little resemblance to the product that was sold raw. The flower, once delivered in sandwich bags, now arrives packaged in plastic-lined mylar pouches and locked for child safety; each gram of hash apparently needs its own glass jar, plastic lid and cardboard box; and half-gram vape pens often need to be squeezed three times their own weight out of display and security packaging before use. And while most outer packaging can be easily recycled, the vaporizer cartridges themselves can be much harder to dispose of.

Cannabis is more popular than ever in the United States – 44% of adults have access to it, for medical or recreational purposes, more than 90% of adults support its full legalization, and a 2021 Weedmaps survey suggests that use has increased by 50% since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, edibles and concentrates continue to grow in popularity among all age groups, from baby boomers to doomers. This increased demand for vape cartridges – both near-ubiquitous 510 threads like those from Rove or more specialized carts like the Pax Era Pods – has led to their increased production and, in turn, their inevitable arrival in landfills. Americans. In California, the nation’s largest legal cannabis market, 510 cartridges are very popular but, due to the state’s strict hazardous waste disposal regulations, difficult to dispose of responsibly.

On the production side, virtually all ingredients, components, growth media, nutrients, scrap, trimmings and scrap are carefully destroyed, usually either dismantled on site or rendered unusable before being shipped to a certified waste management facility. . On a cultivation level, Taylor Vozniak, director of sales and marketing for California-based cannabis waste management company Gaiaca, told Engadget, “It would be plants after they’ve been cut, a growing medium – it will either be soil or rock wool or cocoa husk – any kind of nutrients or pesticides in the water.

At the manufacturing stage, the company handles post-production green waste (think, crushing stems and leaves) as well as hazardous waste like concentrated solvents and defective batches of edibles like misshapen canna-gummies or burnt weed brownies – these must be destroyed on site to remain within the boundaries of the California Cannabis Track and Trace (CCTT) system operated by the state Department of Cannabis Control. The CCTT extends to the point of sale, which means local dispensaries are responsible for seeing returned products and defective goods properly destroyed.

“One-time use batteries have been a big deal for a while now,” Vozniak said. “We are proud to be able to recycle these vaping batteries with or without cannabis.” It turns out that a big part of the impetus behind creating the CCTT system, Vozniak notes, is to prevent such waste from being illicitly harvested and resold. “The general way these regulations were written as they were is to prevent any type of product from entering the black market,” he noted, which is why cannabis by-products, which are what all of the above is considered, must be turned into inert “waste” before being buried in the ground. This is also why your local dispensary does not have a bin for used cartridges.

Products are handled slightly differently depending on whether they are THC or CBD based. “CBD is federally legal,” Vozniak said — so it can be transported across state lines for disposal, “while THC is regulated state by state. Most of the time you will see, especially in California, CBD being destroyed onsite, but I have a client in Dallas who I was able to take their product as is offsite to a disposal facility.

Materials that are directly recyclable or compostable will be. The six-month composting process is enough to completely leach out and break down any leftover THC before the material is repackaged and sold as a garden amendment. Less durable materials like used nitrile gloves, non-recyclable or food-contaminated packaging will instead be sent to local landfills and incinerators. But not vape cartridges. These, along with the Li-ion batteries that power them, are considered e-waste in California, so there’s a litany of additional regulatory hurdles to clear before you throw one away.

“What ends up happening is that you will be able to take [used carts and batteries] with a recycling supplier for a while,” Vozniak said, until “they realize it’s a difficult product to manage, so we’ll have to find new suppliers.”

Ted Chase shows how much is left in his medical marijuana vape cartridge.  Photo by Lauren A. Little (Photo by Lauren A. Little/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images via Getty Images

The difficulty with recycle cartridges is their complex construction and mix of materials – woven fabric wicks and aluminum atomizers sealed by plastic walls with rubber O-rings holding the viscous liquid in place. You can’t clean, sort and disassemble these items by hand very well; as e-waste, they are sorted, cleaned, then repeatedly mechanically shredded and grouped into smaller and smaller pieces until they are reduced and separated into their constituent materials. Vape pen batteries, both rechargeable and single-use all-in-one, follow a similar process, says Vizniak. They are first statically separated by density, then dipped in liquid nitrogen to instantly freeze and deactivate the lithium-ion cells before they are pulverized with mechanical hammers and then sorted for commodity sale.

If that sounds like a lot of work for such small devices, you’re not mistaken. Although the legal cannabis industry in California has been around for less than a decade, much of the Prop 54 verbiage is already losing its relevance. “When things were first written, there was a lack of understanding of how the cannabis industry would end up working,” Vozniak said. He cites the disposal of the All-in-One (AIO) pen battery as an example.

“We still have to destroy these products on site – and I understand the concern there, they [state regulators] I don’t want anything going to the black market – but for these all-in-one pens, there’s really no way to destroy them without putting the operators at risk,” he continued. “A lot of times operators will try to destroy these products themselves because Gaica can be more expensive just because of the nature of what we do. It’s very labor intensive.

Vozniak has seen cannabis retailers encase old AIOs in blocks of resin for deactivation – whole drums of lithium batteries encased in resin that no recycler would ever take – in order to comply with the order of ” destruction in place” of the state. Vozniak argues that a basic exemption to this rule specifically for cannabis e-waste could “really help the industry because that’s really what I see the most – out of state as well.”

In addition to reaching out to their district and state officials to advocate for regulatory changes, vape pen users looking to reduce their consumer footprint have a number of options. 510 refillable cartridges are one thing – they work like dispensary single use canisters but have a screw top to inject fresh oil – like the Flacko Jodye from KandyPens, the SPRK ceramic from PCKT, an all-in-one -a kit from Kiara Naturals, or the Puffco Plus. Maintenance and cleaning of the refillable tanks is simple and can easily be completed using a dab syringe from your local dispensary or friendly neighborhood drug dealer if you prefer a more hand-brewed product. home.

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