Cannabis has a waste problem, and it isn't just the plastic, single-use packages. Cultivators and processors find themselves with tons of excess, low quality, or spent plant material on hand every year. Unfortunately, it's both challenging and costly to dispose of.
When it comes to cannabis cultivation, every penny counts for the bottom line. So what if there were a way to reduce operational expenditures related to this waste but make money from it?
Nextleaf Solutions recently announced a new technology that processes spent cannabis biomass to reduce landfill waste and extracts even more profits from previously unusable plant material. It's just one of the latest technologies striving to make the cannabis industry greener.
What To Do With All That Excess Weed?
Just how much cannabis is going to waste in legal markets? The number is staggering. For example, Canadian producers disposed of 447,118 kilograms (500 tons) of unsold products between 2018 and 2020. In 2020 alone, the destroyed product accounted for 19 percent of all production.
According to MJBiz Daily, producers didn't destroy most of those products because of contamination issues or other problems which would make them unfit for consumption. Instead, industry sources explained that producers destroyed most of this product because of overproduction, clogged sales channels, and low quality.
Canada isn't the only legal market trying to cope with too much weed in recent years. Washington State and California are two other legal markets that have struggled with overproduction in recent years. As a Forbes report put it, “California's legal cultivators grow more than three times as much cannabis as is sold in legal dispensaries.”
Unlike other regulated markets, like alcohol, it's impossible to preserve the quality, profile, and potency over the long term. A bottle of wine or vodka can stay on the shelf for years, even decades, while cannabis flower starts to degrade within only a few months.
This is a growing problem in the many, still immature markets popping up across North America. Unfortunately, the market hasn't settled down yet, leaving many producers with an oversupply and an expensive disposal problem.
Cannabis Waste Disposal: A Growing Cost for Producers
Whether flower requires disposal because of oversupply, quality, or aging, it's a loss for the producer. Layered on top of the lost sales are the costs related to the disposal of a highly regulated and legally 'hazardous' material.
Although specifics vary from one jurisdiction to another, most cannabis plant waste isn't suitable for municipal landfills or composting facilities. It requires special equipment and processing, which all comes with additional transportation and dumping costs.
But what if cannabis plant waste represents a green opportunity? Authors Talia Gordner and Ralph Cuervo-Lorens suggest as much in a 2020 Environmental News Bulletin. Even low-quality cannabis biomass still contains valuable compounds, including THC and CBD. So why should unsellable cannabis flower and other plant material simply go to the landfill or composter?
New Extraction Technology Reduces Cannabis Waste and Processes More Efficiently
Nextleaf Solutions is a federally regulated manufacturer of cannabis vapes and oils and one of the largest cannabis technology patent holders in the world. Its latest patent, announced in April 2022, describes a technology that would allow Nextleaf to “maximize its cannabinoid molecule yield, reduce waste destined for landfills, and create a new business vertical at minimal cost.”
First, the new technology heats up the spent cannabis, which would otherwise go to waste in stages. Each stage releases residual cannabinoids, which improves the efficacy and profitability of their current extractions.
Secondly, the end result is “carbon with a desired porosity level,” also known as activated charcoal. Activated charcoal, or carbon, is in high demand for air purification, metal extraction, medicine, sewage treatment, and much more.
Nextleaf's new extraction and waste management technology not only improves the extraction process by squeezing more out of already processed or low-quality cannabis but then transforms the waste product into a profitable second stream of income. It is a technological development that truly turns cannabis waste into a green opportunity.
The Future: Turning Cannabis Waste to Cannabis Profit
Nextleaf Solutions' announcement isn't the only waste-to-profit innovation happening in the cannabis space. There is also potential for the use of cannabis plant biomass in industrial materials like paper, textiles, composites, bioplastics, etc. Or an aquaponics facility that transforms all organic waste into compost on-site, which gets reused in cultivation?
Any approach that closes the loop and prevents cannabis biomass from heading to landfills and municipal composters reduces the costs for the producers. But, as Nextleaf and other companies are making clear, there are ways to take that one step further, to transform this waste in ways that make it profitable.