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Earth Day: Flexing Your Voice For Cannabis And The Planet

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Kathryn Blume 22 Apr 2019

In honor of Earth Day, we here at Heady Vermont started thinking about all the ways one might be an eco-conscious, sustainability-minded Patron Of Cannabis. Certainly, selecting locally grown, organic cannabis is a powerful choice that some folks can make. But that’s not an option available to everyone.

Additionally, with the proliferation of commercially-packaged cannabis products, we’re seeing a major uptick in the use of plastic packaging. Given the overwhelming volume of plastic pollution – particularly in the oceans – this is a serious concern. A garbage truck’s worth of plastic is currently dumped into the ocean every minute, and the MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans. Yes, we want to help grow the cannabis industry, but we don’t want to contribute to the trashing of the planet along the way.

Photo courtesy of OceanicSociety.org

Additionally, given the availability of single-use vapes with toxic batteries and non-recyclable cartridges, we know that there’s a potentially large solid waste problem with which the industry as a whole is going to have to contend.

Here in Vermont, the state’s one landfill is running out of room. Again, much as we love the widespread availability of cannabis products, a big part of cannabis activism is being part of the solution, not the problem.  

Eager for more information, we turned to Meg Burns from Stone Hut Consulting and Green Hut CBD. Stone Hut’s whole focus is sustainable business and promoting the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, and Green Hut is a CBD retail outlet offering a wide range of commercially available products. As a result, Meg had a great deal of information to share.

HVT: So how does somebody be a conscientious cannabis consumer?

MB: I’d say to be a conscientious consumer, stay away from vape pens. There are no recycling options out there right now, especially in this state, until we get our cannabis waste programs more established and up and running. Pen makers and suppliers also need to build a recycling program around their products, but they haven’t done that yet.

Photo by Nery Zarate on Unsplash

HVT: Is that the only problem with vape pens?

MB: No. Cartridges can also have toxic chemicals. It’s a big thing for me and Green Hut, and it’s why we’re not sourcing smokables yet, especially vape carts. The concentrates have different additives like propylene glycol, which can cause a bunch of different health and respiratory issues.

HVT: How so?

MB: It’s used as a thinner for the concentrates to get them to heat up. When you have too much propylene glycol in lungs, it settles there and causes popcorn-like structures in the lungs, damaging them in the smallest areas, which can cause coughs and shortness of breath

There’s also the problem of the carts themselves. They’re all made in one neighborhood in China where the factories all produce carts and e-cigarettes. There are issues with the purity of metals they’re using in the carts. This is something to be aware of because the heating elements can atomize the metals so you’re inhaling heavy metals.

Photo by Maria Badasian on Unsplash

It’s too bad, because vapes seem like a great way to have quick effect. But we need to design better carts and vaporizing units. So, unless you really know what they’re made out of, I would say stay away. It’s not good.

I think when more people hear about heavy metals in their carts and ask for alternatives and solutions, the industry will catch on, but the big questions right now are: “What’s in it? How is it made? What’s it made with?” After all, if you’re inhaling something and putting it in your body, you want to make sure it’s as safe as possible.

HVT: Does that go for any sort of smoking appliance people using?

“Give feedback to companies and retail outlets. Ask for bulk and reusable products. Ask them not to use gigantic plastic containers.”

MB: Pyrex used in glass is relatively safe. With papers…you’re still inhaling the papers as you smoke. I think the most safe product right now (though I haven’t seen the test reports) is an all-ceramic tank. But they’re expensive because they’re new and haven’t established themselves in the market yet.

HVT: And how do individuals have an impact on packaging being used?

MB: Give feedback to companies and retail outlets. Ask for bulk and reusable products. Ask them not to use gigantic plastic containers.

It’s really an issue. We’re all going through this right now. We have infrastructure set up to make millions of plastic containers in this world, and there are no good ways to recycle anymore. Previous waste streams weren’t handling it properly because they were shipping all their recycling to China, and China was incinerating everything.

HVT: Really?

MB: Yeah. In 2016 China imported ⅔ of world’s plastic waste. There were 10,000 megatons of plastic flowing into China. Then in June 2018, China shut its door for recycling.

Photo courtesy of The Economist

It’s a problem that goes back 25-30 years. We thought recycling was so great, but we were only recycling 40% back into other recycled products. And we weren’t doing it very well. We don’t clean plastic when we put in the bin. People still throw dirty containers into recycling bin, and think it’s ok. But it’s not ok. Those are all contaminants, and that plastic can’t be used.

Now we’re down to 10-20% of plastic in the world being recycled, most of which is proactively being recycled by companies. Otherwise, it’s not going anywhere. We can’t ship plastic somewhere else in this country. We need to think of not using or minimally using plastic.

Nothing is going to change until people demand a difference and start pushing legislators and leaders to rise up and say “We need to stop this. This problem isn’t going anywhere we need to do something about it.”

As a consumer, flex your voice to talk to the businesses you buy your products from. Tell them you don’t want plastic containers. If you’re a business, talk to the brands that you’re working with. And it’s hard. You can’t always get away from plastic tops or the rubber tops on tincture bottles.

But nothing is going to change until people demand a difference and start pushing legislators and leaders to rise up and say “We need to stop this. This problem isn’t going anywhere we need to do something about it.”

HVT: So is there any hope?

MB: Well, there are bIoplastics. I won’t knock that at all. Of course, if you do a life cycle assessment of something like corn-based plastic, there’s lots of heavy land and water use.

However, when you look at hemp, that doesn’t need as much water as corn does. It grows like a weed – literally – and there’s a huge viable future there. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done with hemp.

But there are also challenges. I was talking with a packaging company in Boulder that makes hemp plastic dube tubes and containers – which are compostable. They made it childproof, but the state rules around childproofing required that the covers be made of thick plastic. That was causing the container not to break down as easily in compostable setting.

Photo courtesy of MidwestCompassion.org

We need to think smarter about some of the regulations that we have around those kinds of products. Does the wall thickness of plastic need to be that thick? Can we design container in a way that it’s safe, hold childproof certification, and be compostable?

HVT: So how do we move forward?

MB: We’re held back by legal limitations. We need to stop restriction on hemp and cannabis. That’s what’s holding us back in this country. Israel and Canada are doing a lot of research. Once cannabis prohibition is lifted, we’ll have better technology.

HVT: And what about the folks who want to grow their own? What can they do?

MB: The thing about cannabis is it sucks a lot out of the soil. So if you want good products, make sure you know what it’s growing in. Start with a soil test. I got my soil tester at Gardener’s Supply. Find out what’s in your soil. Are there heavy metals or other contaminants?

Then, try to grow outside. Sunlight is great. But if you’re going to use a grow tent, choose an LED setup. They’re cost-effective and don’t use a lot of energy.

HVT: Anything else?

MB: Use organic fertilizers. But honestly, you don’t have to do too much to your plants. Water them and let them grow. Weed kind of grows itself.  

 

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