From propane energy sources to plastic packaging, the cannabis industry has a larger carbon footprint than you think. As more states continue to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana, cultivators need to keep up with the growing demand — but they aren’t doing so in the best way.
In Colorado, for example, the weed industry accounts for 1.3% of the state’s total annual carbon emissions, according to the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment. This is similar to emissions from coal mining and trash collection for the entire state.
Does the rapidly expanding industry have to go up in smoke? No. But is there a better way? Yes. Climate Scientist Eloisa Lewis, founder of New Climate Culture has climate-smart, low cost, high yield alternatives for cannabis cultivation from sourcing to processing. She believes that it’s about creating regenerative economies that stabilize ecosystems instead of destroying them.
Eloisa suggest some eco-friendly ways to grow and cultivate cannabis:
1. Grow Outdoors Instead of Indoors
“The biggest issue that needs to be tackled in the farming industry is that we should transition from indoor to outdoor growing as much as possible,” Lewis said. “If we’re going to have a sustainable industry, we can’t continue to cultivate indoors in the manner that we are. We have to transition to the outdoors.”
While you may think growing cannabis outdoors could be more risky for the plant, it’s actually very helpful and can create more resilient genetics, increase local biodiversity, and higher quality yields. If you don’t expose your cannabis plants to different pathogens and diseases, they can become weak and more susceptible to diseases that can come in through your indoor grow.
“You’re creating a more dynamic plant because without stress, plants can also become weakened through artificial lightsource systems that reduce genetics to being on life support. You need to put them in unstable weather conditions so they can learn to adapt,” Lewis said.
2. Harvest Rainwater for Cultivation and Extraction
Another eco-friendly way to grow cannabis is to harvest rainwater for cultivation and extraction. This can not only help to replenish groundwater, but it can also decrease costs over time and your business’ dependence on external suppliers.
According to Lewis, this process is also disaster-resilient and decentralized resource management, which is keystone for the new regenerative economies that stabilize ecosystems instead of destroying them.
“To make a truly regenerative farm, these systems are low maintenance and might be able to last for a thousand years. It’s interesting, looking at the best techniques from ancient farms from around the world and how they supplied thousands of years of agricultural excellence for their populations without relying on modern technology,” Lewis said.
3. Polyculture the Garden with Local Soils and Allies
There are many benefits of polyculture for your outdoor grow, including:
- Increasing biodiversity
- Enhancing soil health
- Eliminating fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides
- Promoting clean water runoff
- Reducing disease severity
- Increasing yields
- Decreasing soil erosion
- Sequestering carbon
Having more biodiversity in the soil will have macro effects, such as creating pest-resilience with chickens and rabbits and using fruit trees to break the wind around the farm. Not only can this help your cannabis plants, but you are also helping the environment around you.
4. Use Organic Fertilizer and Non-Toxic Pest Management
One of the largest amounts of unnecessary waste is created from growing mediums that cannot be reused, such as rockwool and coco-coir. Not only are these mediums not reusable, but they are not recyclable and are shipped all the way to your farm or facility — a process with an enormous carbon footprint.
Some of the mediums also grow the cannabis plants in a sterile environment, which can be a disadvantage from the angle of plant health and the final product quality. Just like the process of growing outdoors, a little stress on your plant is a good thing and can help produce higher quality yields.
The cost of outsourcing fertilizer and its carbon footprint could be offset by applying natural farming practices such as local, widely available plant and animal ingredients. This soil can also be reused in either grow beds or flower pots, allowing you to save money over time.
5. Incorporate Circular Energy Sources
“Incorporating circular energy sources such as Biogas, a system that relies on local compost, as a replacement for propane and propane adjacent fuels, is a very simple, fast, and easy replacement that you can retro fit into any system that uses propane,” Lewis said. “If you have a farm, creating compost with food waste and things that we can’t consume can all be used to create propane fuels. And now you have your own endless supply of energy.”
Grow operations could offset their cost of energy by installing diverse, eco-friendly solutions that can support themselves in case of a power outage.
6. Replace Plastic Packaging
It’s no surprise that plastic is bad for the environment, and many companies continue to come out with new and innovative ways to replace this type of packaging. Plastic pollution takes a huge toll on wildlife: More than 700 species, including sea turtles, fish, and whales, eat plastic or get tangled up in it. Plastic will soon outweigh all the fish in the sea, and it’s in our drinking water and on our plates.
Instead of plastic, Lewis suggests using glass, fungi-based, or plant-based compostable packaging that will break down easier and can be recycled.
There are so many actions that can be taken to grow cannabis in a more eco-friendly way. The less we become dependent on resources that contribute to Greenhouse gasses, the more we can reap the benefits of sustainable farming.