Hemp sales are on the rise. In 2019, sales reached $1.2 billion and the market is projected to peak to $10.3 billion in 2024, according to Hemp Industry Daily. As hemp demand and enthusiasm from consumers all around the world are growing with no sign of slowing down, producers have to align hemp production accordingly. With such a fast-paced production and growing demand globally, especially for CBD products, hemp disposal should be well managed and meet regulations across the country. How do growers handle hemp waste efficiently? What is the law saying about hemp disposal? Let’s explore.
Cannabis Disposal Processes
Legal cannabis disposal is complex. Growers tend to violate regulations, unintentionally or intentionally, to dispose of hemp waste. To avoid potential health, contamination, or safety issues, hemp growers should look cautiously at what the law says about disposal.
There are different ways of disposing of cannabis waste as of today.
The most used technique is disposing of hemp waste in landfills. Why? Hemp growers tend to use landfills for waste as the cheapest option. But that’s not the most efficient technique according to Jonathan Lee. The CEO of Gaiaca Waste Revitalisation states that, despite concerns on how to dispose of cannabis waste, there’s a lack of guidelines for rendering hemp “unrecognizable” and “unusable”. Hence, landfills are chosen. Yet the EPA — US Environmental Protection Agency — standards for cannabis waste indicates that:
- Cannabis products should be removed from the package and rendered “unusable”
- Must be incorporated with non-cannabis waste
- The mixture should be 50% non-cannabis waste and should be stored in a secured receptacle
However, highly-regulated cannabis products require attention than the much less regulated hemp cultivation industry.
What are the Regulations for Hemp Disposal?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set up compliant disposal ways for hemp growers as follows during the Interim Final Rule. The objective is to set out a compliant process VS a compliant outcome for hemp disposal. Depending on the production activity, there are different compliant outcomes. Farmers may choose one of the methods or even combine two techniques as described below:
*photo courtesy of the USDA
The compost of hemp waste is another option for producers. However, the organic material should be uncontaminated, and with the use of bleach or other chemicals, clean compost can be impossible. Another issue with hemp disposal deals with potential hazardous elements that can be contained in cannabis waste such as pesticides, making it difficult for composting, for instance. Other popular techniques for waste disposal include incineration — which occurs at high temperatures to destroy toxic components in the waste — and in-vessel digestion which is another efficient way alternative to composting.
The compliant outcome for the agricultural way of should be “green manure” and amend soil directly from the crop. As for composting, green manure is also sought-after alongside mulch mixed with biomass. Disking requires green manure to be compliant waste alongside amending soil directly from the soil while leveling the fields. The bush mower or chopper technique outcome is green manure combined with shredded biomass. Deep burial should also rely on field biomass buried in trenches covered in the soil while burning which is another disposal method should see fields cleared of all plant material. The guidelines make what’s considered by the USDA compliant way of hemp waste.
New Rule in 2021
However, hemp waste regulations have received temporary changes from the USDA. Until October 31, 2021, hemp disposal obligations and laboratory testing have been delayed and is waiting for a new rule, as stated by The USDA, “While we consider these steps necessary at the moment, these policies may no longer be appropriate as we draft the final rule and will serve as a temporary measure to allow a smooth transition into regular enforcement.” However, what’s considered “hot hemp” i.e. crop yield exceeding the 0.3% THC threshold won’t need to be disposed of through the DEA or another law enforcement body. In the meantime, the compliant rules of the USDA as stated above should apply to growers — lastly, producers should be aware that until the final rule is established, the USDA will conduct random audits in farms across the USA.
Recycling Could Answer the Call
One company, 9Fiber, believes there’s a better way. Recognizing that growers in the cannabis industry have increasing amounts of stalks and stems that must be managed after harvest, the founders of the company set out to help bring a better solution.
With a simple process, 9Fiber destroys any residual THC, removes contaminants and lignin from the stalks and stems, transforming them into unrecognizable biomass that can be further processed into a number of safe products including paper, textiles, composites, bioplastics, building materials supercapacitors, and more.
Hemp producers should comply with the guidelines provided by the USDA in the interim period of the new rule enforcement set in October 2021. As there’s not enough capacity in the country to monitor the testing and disposal of hemp, producers should stay in the loop for further information and the new law to be enforced.