How cannabis companies can properly dispose of product waste

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Image of a worker wearing PPE while checking a cannabis plan

Marijuana regulators are concerned that trashed cannabis will fall into the wrong hands, so companies are required to go to great lengths to ensure it’s unusable when thrown out.

Businesses often go as far as mixing old cannabis with sand or kitty litter.

Others spend thousands of dollars on industrial shredders.

“I’ve seen some operators lay out their waste and drive over it with a lawn mower,” said Taylor Vozniak of Gaiaca Waste Revitalization, based in Gonzales, California.

“Followed by mixing with soil, mulch, sawdust or cardboard.”

Depending on the state, the disposal process might need to be documented on video or operators might be required to haul their trash to a permitted solid waste-disposal facility.

“Regardless of disposal method, state agencies will require the waste type, batch ID and weight of waste to be recorded on paper or electronic manifest, entered into their state’s track-and-trace system and be available for audit upon request,” Vozniak said.

That’s why some cannabis companies will hire a third-party waste-disposal service to save them the headache.

Compliance is king

“Compliance with state cannabis regulations should be the top priority for all cannabis operators,” said Michelle Bodian, an attorney in the Boston office of marijuana-focused law firm Vicente Sederberg.

“Some state environmental agencies have issued guidance on how to properly dispose of cannabis waste in compliance with the state’s environmental regulations.

“Understanding which rules apply to your cannabis business is the first step toward compliance.”

To cut down on environmental impacts, some companies denature their waste or compost it.

Another environmentally friendly practice is to use the cannabis byproduct for other purposes such as cosmetics or surf wax.

At New York-based Ascend Wellness Holdings, Jeff Thompson, executive vice president of operations, said the company disposes of “green” waste and growing media by running it through a shredder, rendering it unusable before it is hauled away for composting.

At Sunset Pipeline Cannabis in San Francisco, Marketing Director Bam Deocampo said the easiest way for his company to handle marijuana trash disposal is to go through Recology, a waste-management service that adheres to the guidelines of Florida-headquartered traceability company Metrc.

In some California locations, cannabis waste is tracked and manifested per Metrc requirements by a third-party waste hauler.

Sunset Pipeline mixes in other materials with the flower so it can’t be smoked.

Deocampo said the company often throws out cannabis that’s defective – such as a vape cartridge – or past an expiration date.

Disposal costs

Cannabis companies can end up spending thousands of dollars on material to mix in the product or on expensive shredders to remain compliant.

To save money, Thompson recommends that companies coordinate pickups to coincide with harvest schedules to minimize the number of trips.

Such a move will reduce fuel expenses; the industrial shredder Ascend Wellness uses keeps labor costs down as well.

At Jetty Extracts, based in Oakland, California, Chief Production Officer Nate Ferguson said the company spends about $2,000-$2,500 per month on a third-party cannabis-disposal operator.

To cut costs, Ferguson said “wet cannabis is actually cheaper to dispose of because the waste is measured by volume, not weight.”

Jetty used to send its cannabis waste to a worm compost farm.

“The worms slowed down over time,” Ferguson said. “We laughed and thought they got too stoned to keep up.”

‘Unusable, unrecognizable’

Rules differ from state to state, but regulations typically stipulate that waste needs to be rendered “unusable and unrecognizable.”

Some states even require that cannabis waste is blended into a 50:50 mix with “inert” material, often sand or kitty litter.

To stay on the right side of regulators, Ascend Wellness maintains secure disposal containers for its cannabis waste.

“Cannabis operators should study their state’s cannabis regulations regarding waste before beginning operation to properly understand the requirements around compliant waste management,” Vozniak said.

Andy Marshall, chief executive officer of Sterilis Solutions, headquartered in Chicago, offers a shredding machine for cannabis companies that is also used for regulated waste from hospitals and other medical facilities.

The machine takes the labor out of the process others use, including mixing sand into cannabis products, according to Marshall.

Sterilis’ machine can process gummies, vape cartridges, flower – all varieties of cannabis waste, including the wrappers and packaging it came in.

As an Internet of Things device, the machine helps track the waste to ensure it’s compliant with Metrc or other seed-to-sale tracking platforms.

It’s a $65,000 autoclave that uses pressurized steam to sterilize the waste before running it through a grinder.

“God love anyone who could find any sort of value in that waste,” Marshall said.

Bart Schaneman can be reached at