Cannabis may be good for the mind and body, but the modern cannabis industry is terrible for the planet. The sheer scale of today's cannabis sector has a growing problem with its environmental impact. Now, the cannabis sector is turning to reclamation technologies to turn this around.
Large-scale cannabis cultivation guzzles massive amounts of water, energy, and CO2, while post-harvest production relies on petrochemicals for extraction. As a result, reclamation technologies, commonly deployed in the mining sector among other industries, are finding a new home with cultivators, extractors, and other plant-touching entities.
But, as many cannabis companies are finding out, reclamation can also deliver returns for the bottom line.
Water Reclamation for Cannabis
With many of the country's leading pro-cannabis states facing the worst drought on record, water reclamation technology for the cannabis sector will soon be a requirement of doing business.
Water, essential for cultivation and sanitation, is one of the leading areas where operations of all sizes can save money and reduce their ecological footprint.
GeoMat is one of the leading water reclamation companies serving the cannabis sector. It offers industrial-grade, closed-loop systems to capture, clean, and reuse water from irrigation and sanitation stations.
On the irrigation end, potted cannabis plants sit on an elevated, permeable mat, where all runoff seeps into a catchment and circulates back into the system for reuse. This captures what would have been wastewater, saving money on nutrients.
On the sanitation end, cleanup teams can work directly on the sizable, non-skid Geomat to sanitize equipment, including trays, pots, and more. Once again, the mat captures the excess water to get filtered and aerated within the closed-loop system.
Whether deployed for sanitation or within an irrigation system, Geomat helps cultivators reduce wastewater production and conserve an increasingly finite resource, making facilities more efficient and economical.
CO2 Reclamation from Breweries Helps Make Cannabis Greener
Cannabis' dirty little secret is its greenhouse gas emissions. According to one recent assessment, “The resulting life cycle GHG emissions range, based on location, from 2,283 to 5,184 kg CO2-equivalent per kg of dried flower.” In comparison, the average vehicle emits 2.3 kg of CO2 for every liter of gasoline.
Much of the CO2 produced by the cannabis industry comes from environmental controls used within indoor grows and greenhouses. Cultivators supplement the growing environment with additional CO2 to accelerate growth, usually by burning natural gas.
Texas-based Earthly Labs provides small-scale carbon capture technologies to breweries and other greenhouse gas-emitting businesses. Captured and compressed, this CO2 becomes a profitable waste product suitable for use in greenhouses. As CNN reported in April 2020, “Breweries are turning carbon dioxide into liquid gold.”
CO2 reclamation technology in cannabis is still a relatively new concept, but Earthly Labs is seeking to change that. In 2020, it finished a small pilot project with Denver Beer and The Clinic, a cultivator facility in Colorado. According to the results, Earthly Labs technology “captured the equivalent of 93 trees worth of CO2 from hitting the atmosphere.” What's more, The Clinic reduced the cost per pound by $0.20, or a total of 15 percent lower cost for the harvest.
Earthly Labs is quickly expanding its CO2 reclamation technology to breweries across the country. If the results of this pilot project are any indication, cannabis cultivators from coast to coast will have a greener source of CO2.
Beyond the cultivation room, there are other reclamation technologies applicable to the cannabis industry. In the extraction world, solvent reclamation is the most critical, already quite common across the sector.
Solvents, like butane, ethanol, and CO2, are used to separate the valuable components from plant material. They also make up the brunt of the costs of the extraction process. Therefore, solvent recycling and reclamation is a critical component of the operation.
Maratek Environmental manufactures solvent recycling equipment. It is a sister company to Maratek, which designs extraction equipment. Maratek offers solvent recycling services for a long list of industries. Still, when it comes to cannabis production, they can capture and reuse ethanol, butane, propane, hexane, and isopropyl alcohol.
Designed for large-scale producers, Maratek’s award-winning equipment is a significant upfront investment. However, through the recycling and reuse of reclaimed solvents, Maratek states that its customers end up recouping these costs within 18 months. It also offers equipment rental programs to help reduce capital expenses.
Maratek's solvent recycling equipment can help cannabis extractors reclaim and reuse as much as 95 percent of their solvents. Not only is this good for the company's bottom line, but it also delivers immediate returns for the planet.
Reclamation Technology: Increasingly Necessary for the Cannabis Industry
Reclamation technologies are beneficial in two ways for the cannabis industry. First, as the sector becomes an industrial behemoth, it helps reduce the growing environmental impact.
Water reclamation takes the pressure off local water resources, reclaimed CO2 reduces the plant's greenhouse gas emissions, and solvent recycling lowers the demand for petrochemicals.
But, reclamation tech also helps lower production costs. In an industry where every penny saved is an edge over the competition, this reason alone may convince many companies to invest in reclamation.