A Solution for the Growing Cannabis Waste Problem

by | Mar 13, 2018

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

Micron Waste Technologies, headquartered in Vancouver, BC, Canada, has entered into a collaboration agreement with Canadian heavy-hitter, Aurora Cannabis Inc. Micron specializes in developing on-site organic waste treatment systems, which rely on microorganisms to break down landfill-bound waste on site.

Although historically focused on food waste, they have turned their attention to the blossoming cannabis industry, and its subsequent waste problem. Their patent-pending technologies turn organic waste into clean water, and the testing phase is expected to wrap up the installation of an on-site test digester at an Aurora facility within the next few months.


Video is courtesy of Micron Waste Technologies.

|The Growing Problem with Cannabis Waste|

According to the recent statistics coming out of B.C.'s southern neighbor, the state of Washington, cannabis waste is becoming a real headache for both producers and the regional landfills. In Washington alone, 1.7 million pounds of cannabis waste has accumulated since legalization in 2014.

Despite most cannabis bi-products being entirely compostable, many regions have determined that marijuana waste should be treated as medical waste.  In other areas, some industrial composting companies have decided to follow the federal law instead of local state laws on cannabis. Whatever the underlying reason, Micron has zeroed on this costly industry headache as their next target market.

In Washington, composters report hauling away from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of waste a week from their cannabis clients. For most producers, maintaining compliance while at the same time upholding high environmental standards is a near impossible task. In Washington state, industry experts believe that most cannabis waste simply goes straight to the landfill. Few producers make an effort to contract it out to an industrial composter.

Through its agreement with Aurora, and the recent addition of BC Research and engineering consultancy focused on bringing emerging technology to the commercial space, Micron is set to revolutionize the industry. They are striving to perfect an innovative digester, which will process all organic materials (soils, stems, stalks, leaves, and more) into grey water which meets municipal discharge standards. No matter if the producer relies on conventional pesticides, or organic growing techniques, the final product after on-site processing will be water clean enough to dump down the drain.

|Aerobic Waste Management|

The initial step in Micron’s innovative cannabis waste disposal system includes a tag team of mechanical and microorganism action, transforming the organic waste into sludge. The second step pumps the slurry through four unique environments which use further microbes and specialized enzymes to convert it into non-potable, but otherwise clean grey water. When fully processed, the water is free from Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), Total Suspended Solids, Biochemical Oxygen (BOD) and any remaining fats, oils or grease (FOG).

Bob Bhushan, the founder and chief technical officer of Micron, confirms to Waste360 that their two-step digestion process is powerful enough to break down THC. An important consideration when cannabis waste is considered medical waste in some districts, and especially because the grey water may eventually find itself flushed down the sewer.

|The Benefit of On-site Waste Management|

For the cannabis producer, on-site processing is without a doubt a significant initial investment, but it has massive long-term payoffs for companies willing to invest. It reduces waste disposal costs such as dumping fees; it also produces water clean enough to use for non-potable applications.

One of the primary benefits of doing waste management on-site is the simplification of the bureaucracy associated with cannabis waste disposal. Again, disposing of cannabis by-products isn’t as simple as dropping them off at the landfill. Typical municipal by-laws mean tracking waste down the gram. It also means, combining it with other waste to make it unusable and unrecognizable.

Micron's development if an on-site digester with the capacity to handle commercial volumes of cannabis waste, may help to tackle the growing waste problem. Since 2015, there has been a marked increase in the number of licensed medicinal cannabis users in Canada, from just over 20,000 in the second quarter of 2015 to over 200,000 in the second quarter of 2017. 

With Canada set to enter into a new world of legal cannabis in the summer of 2018, one can only assume cannabis consumption will skyrocket. With consumption, comes more production, and more leftover waste product. It's logical to expect an increased need for environmentally friendly, cost-effective and efficient cannabis waste disposal systems across the industry.