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AUTHOR: Heather Allman

Cartridges, Batteries and Waste, Oh My! — Part 1

Remember that movie A League of Their Own with Tom Hanks? If not, one rule is made crystal clear: “there’s no crying in baseball.” Likewise, apparently, there’s no sustainability in cannabis. Yet. We can always hope.

In the U.S., to my knowledge, there are no state-governed collection programs built into medical cannabis policy, compliance, legal or tax frameworks, or end user means of disposal. Of course there are states that provide more access to cannabis waste recycling, such as California.

However, there’s not a compulsory requirement for the State Compliance Board nor is it built into the state of California medical cannabis or adult recreational cannabis use.

  • What about sustainability in other renewable energy sectors?

WindEurope reports on February 12, 2020 that Blade recycling: a top priority for the wind industry:

“Wind turbines already have a recyclability rate of 85% to 90%. Making turbines 100% recyclable is an important task for the wind industry – and we are making significant progress in the right direction. Most components of a wind turbine – the foundation, tower, components of the gear box and generator – are recyclable and are treated as such.

Today 2.5 million tonnes of composite material are in use in the wind sector globally. Further development and industrialisation of alternative tecnologies will enable the industry to deliver zero-waste turbines.”

  • You may be wondering what happens to solar panels when their life cycle ends?

According to The Opportunities of Solar Panel Recycling: A Solar Panel’s Life After Death published on November 11, 2019 by Attila Tamas Vekony:

“The energy industry has been experiencing a radical change and the gradual shift towards renewable energy sourcing is more than evident. Nevertheless, not all that looks sustainable stays that way upon the end of its life cycle. At least that is the most common worry regarding photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. They are a sustainable source of energy, dependant only on solar radiation, and capable of delivering electricity to our homes. 

The Lifetime of Solar Panels: How long do solar panels last?

According to studies, the life expectancy of solar panels is about 30 years before decommissioning. They guarantee 25 years. Explore their journey through the recycling process in the infographic found here.

  • What about disposal of Solar Panels?

From a regulatory aspect, PV panel waste still falls under the general waste classification. A sole exception exists at EU-level, where PV panels are defined as e-waste in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.

  • What can we conclude from this information as far as the renewability and recyclability of solar panels?

The common belief of solar panels not being recyclable is, therefore, a myth:

“Research studies conducted on the topic of recycling solar panels have resulted in numerous technologies. Some of them even reach an astonishing 96% recycling efficiency, but the aim is to raise the bar higher in the future.

After the thermal treatment, the green hardware is physically separated. 80% of these can readily be reused, while the remainder is further refined.”

Conversely, in his article Can Solar Panels Be Recycled? Tom Schoder tackles this complicated issue in 2018:

The short answer is yes. Silicon solar modules are primarily composed of glass, plastic, and aluminum: three materials that are recycled in mass quantities.

The US market has plenty to learn from their European counterparts when it comes to PV module recycling. While Washington became the first state to pass a solar product stewardship law last year, more states will have to join this initiative to place greater pressure on manufacturers to develop recycling programs.”

  • So if we can’t recycle vape cartridges right now, can we recycle the vape cartridge battery? Can these types of batteries be recycled?


  • Or are they mostly disposable and fill up landfills with cannabis waste, from cultivation to “end of life” with the end cannabis consumer?

On Wikipedia, it reports on virtually every type of usable battery: “Battery recycling is a recycling activity that aims to reduce the number of batteries being disposed as municipal solid waste. Batteries contain a number of heavy metals and toxic chemicals and disposing of them by the same process as regular trash has raised concerns over soil contamination and water pollution. [1]:

“Most types of batteries can be recycled. However, some batteries are recycled more readily than others, such as lead–acid automotive batteries (nearly 90% are recycled) and button cells (because of the value and toxicity of their chemicals).[2] Rechargeable nickel–cadmium (Ni-Cd), nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH), lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel–zinc (Ni-Zn), can also be recycled. There is currently no cost-neutral recycling option available for disposable alkaline batteries, though consumer disposal guidelines vary by region.[3]

  • If the majority of battery types can be recycled as noted above, then why is the Cannabis Community not doing more to change the issue of our huge cannabis carbon footprint?

In ENERGIZER SUSTAINABILITY RESPONSIBILITY pledge, they note thatOur approach to corporate responsibility all boils down to one simple thought: ‘Do the right thing.’ And we have developed a three-part approach to help bring it about.”

According to EZ on the Earth:  

“For smaller quantities, our EZ on The Earth prepaid mailback program provides several different battery recycling kits, and all battery kits include a fireproof insulation capable of withstanding 2,000 Fahrenheit to ensure safe shipment. EZ on the Earth recycle kits are shipped directly to your location and leave our warehouse within one business day. Recycle kits include everything you need to package your batteries for proper shipment.”

  • What about sustainability in the U.S. cannabis industry in 2020?

On the topic of sustainability, Florida, like all other legal medical cannabis states, also currently lacks a dedicated patient, community dispensary, and clinic “cannabis collection” station for used cannabis products; an integrated program for safe disposal here in Florida must be addressed, by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee or other dedicated state body. 

For example a patient-safe, secure system of cannabis disposal could operate within Florida in the same manner as the plethora of statewide “no questions asked” needle disposal/exchange programs currently offered to the general public.

Or similarly, a state cannabis collection program could operate county or city-wide, like the popular unused or expired medication collections that occur on a regular basis throughout the United States in an effort to keep these pharmaceuticals out of national public water supplies.

In future years, the state could link together the Hemp and Cannabis divisions which currently operate separately under the Florida Department of Agriculture purview. A progressive move such as this would provide Commissioner Nikki Fried’s ambitious “Fresh From Floridahemp industry into a sustainable future provider of cannabis product packaging.

Perhaps the state of Florida could formulate a regulated education program while waiting for their hemp return to harvest.

  • What about sustainability in the U.S. cannabis industry in 2019?

Good cannabis models do exist for Florida, or any legal medical cannabis U.S. state to consider. Meet Kim Wilson The Responsible Face Of The Cannabis Industry, according to Dr. Julie Moltke on July 16, 2019:

The Cannabis Industry Needs Transparency and Social Corporate Responsibility

Per Kim Wilson, the inaugural Executive Director of The Global Cannabis Partnership (GCP). 

Q1. I understand that your team at GCP oversees the development and implementation of the Responsible Cannabis Framework and advances the collective social responsibility in the industry. In your own words, what is the mission of GCP?

  1. The global cannabis partnership’s mandate is to establish standards of responsibility within the legal cannabis industry worldwide. So for us, it is about moving beyond compliance to really elevate the standards and to demonstrate a commitment of responsibility, transparency and ethical behaviour to all stakeholders.”

  2. Kim Wilson’s Q & A: Dosage
  3. GCP Responsible Framework Fact Sheet
  4. GCP Member: Israel-Cannabis (iCAN)

Benzinga Cannabis published Confident Cannabis And The Road To Transparency In The Industry by Natan Ponieman and Javier Hasse on February 12, 2020, explaining the mission:

“Confident Cannabis is a tech company focused on bringing transparency across the cannabis supply chain. The company offers lab testing and wholesale solutions for cannabis operators, as well as an information management system for certified labs. Brad Bogus, VP of Growth & Marketing, spoke with Benzinga about the firm’s accomplishments and possibilities. Making Data Accessible For The Industry’s Sake “We have a ton of cannabis chemistry data because we work with over half of the cannabis labs nationwide, who are using our lab testing software,” says Bogus.”

Danielle Simone Brand’s The Unique Challenges to Recycling Vapes in the Cannabis Industry puts the vape problem in perspective:

“When cannabis vapes first came onto the market now several years ago, some budtenders thought they would be just a fleeting trend. But they endured, then caught on in a big way. Today, the vape market is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the legal cannabis economy, accounting for 22 percent of all dispensary sales in California, Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona in 2018.

But, though vapes may feel cleaner to the user, they’re not particularly sustainable. Mitchell Colbert, a cannabis researcher and activist, said that back when vapes were first introduced to the market, a budtender friend of his named them the “McDonald’s of our industry,” referring to the disposable and single-use models of consumption, as well as the products’ over-packaging. 

While these two problems are in no way unique to the cannabis industry (think plastic water bottles, single-use shopping bags, Keurig coffee pods, among countless other examples) they do pose big obstacles to environmentally friendliness.

Among the biggest of those obstacles is how to dispose of used vape pens.”

Challenges to Recycling

What’s most evident in the vape recycling space is a lack of clarity. In California, for instance, some vape recycling programs that were underway in the medical market had to be discontinued in 2018 due to the new regulations.

However, regulators in California have resisted mandating a statewide, streamlined recycling program for vapes.

Batteries should be disposed of at an e-waste or battery recycling center. And as for used cartridges, there doesn’t seem to be a clear place a consumer can recycle them, since they fall under the new California regulations mentioned above.”

  • Now we’re back to the cannabis companies and the states that have made medical cannabis legal stepping in and making it part of the regulatory framework of the state program.

Recycling Vape cartridges in used cannabis ways must be considered. The ideal according to Colbert?

“Beyond offering easy vape recycling, a consumer cannabis experience that’s genuinely environmentally-friendly would have a number of features.

This super green dispensary gives customers incentives and discounts for recycling vape products, and makes it easy to do so with a drop-off that accepts all vape materials from batteries to heating coils to used cartridges, and everything in between. “Both dispensaries and users could be incentivized to recycle in a number of ways, although many will do it for purely altruistic reasons,” Miller told Civilized.

What’s more, this green dispensary cooperates with manufacturers and other dispensaries so that consumers don’t have to return to the original store to recycle. “You bring everything back to whichever dispensary is convenient to recycle or reuse,” said Colbert. “Ideally, close the loop.”

Federal cannabis legalization (this is a fantasy after all, though possibly not too far off the future mark) would mean that cannabis waste disposal companies can scale up their operations and make the jobs of recycling the electronic parts involved in vaping much more efficient.

To make all this happen, said Colbert, the burden shouldn’t rest solely on cannabis entrepreneurs. New regulations helped create the problem of over-packaging as well as the barriers to recycling.

Here you can read about How waste management facilities are dealing with an uptick in vape products by Meghan Lopez:

“Employees at the Boulder County Hazardous Materials Management facility acts as a collection for the hazardous materials people use in their households. The center collects, separates and then safely disposes of chemicals, batteries and other items that are too dangerous to simply throw away. Lately, though, employees at the facility have been dealing with a new challenge — vape products have been coming in by the pound.

Vaping is becoming a more popular trend across the country via 2014 CDC survey

This new tech trash poses new challenges since there are so many components that could be considered dangerous in vape pens….Because of the materials that make up vaping product and the dangers they pose, pens and pods cannot be thrown into either a recycling bin or a trash can. Instead, they need to come to hazardous materials facilities to by separated and shipped off to specialized centers.”

Last year in May 2019, Trevor Hennings was published Trashing Your Empty Vape Oil Cartridges? Here’s What You Can Do Instead

“As you toss your used-up cannabis oil vape cartridge in the trash, you might wonder, can I recycle that instead?

The short answer is no—and with the popularity of vape pens steadily rising, that’s a problem. Reports show that concentrate sales are expected to overtake flower sales by 2022, with a large majority of these oils being consumed through pre-loaded vape cartridges.

However convenient these vape pens are, they’re quickly becoming the cannabis industry equivalent of Keurig cups, as retired batteries and cartridges make their way to the landfill.

You might wonder, why can’t cannabis oil cartridges be recycled after use? Vape pens and their cartridges are made up of many different materials in minuscule quantities. With no shortage of cartridges, this brings us to the second problem: Why can’t we collect vape cartridges?

When states began to transition to legal markets, regulations were put in place to deter illegal resale activity. The fear was that items like cartridges would be collected and trace amounts of cannabis oils could be extracted to produce an unregulated black market product. Because of this, it is illegal for businesses to allow for drop-off bins for cartridges.”

  • Without these drop-off collections and specialized recycling centers, it’s unlikely we will see any development towards recycling cartridges in the near future. That may sound bleak, but there are still ways you can support more sustainable options when it comes to vaping.

One company EcoWaste serves California and disposing of cannabis waste according to state compliance regulations established by the Bureau of Cannabis Control – Cannabis Waste Regulations. According to their website, EcoWaste is full service disposal:

“On January 16, 2019, California’s three state cannabis licensing authorities announced that the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) officially approved state regulations for cannabis businesses across the supply chain. Please note, these new cannabis regulations listed below take effect immediately, meaning the previous emergency regulations are no longer in effect.

Section 5000. Definitions.

“Cannabis waste” means waste that contains cannabis and that has been made unusable and unrecognizable in the manner prescribed in section 5054 of this division.

Section 5049. Track and Trace Reporting

If cannabis goods are being destroyed or disposed of, the licensee shall record in the track and trace system the following additional information:

The name of the employee performing the destruction or disposal.

The reason for destruction and disposal.

The entity disposing of the cannabis waste.

Section 5054. Destruction of Cannabis Goods Prior to Disposal.

(a) Licensees shall not dispose of cannabis goods, unless disposed of as cannabis waste, defined under section 5000(g) of this division.

(b) Cannabis waste shall be stored, managed, and disposed of in accordance with all applicable waste management laws, including, but not limited to, Division 30 of the Public Resources Code.

(c) Cannabis goods intended for disposal shall remain on the licensed premises until rendered into cannabis waste.

To be rendered as cannabis waste for proper disposal, including disposal as defined under Public Resources Code section 40192, cannabis goods shall first be destroyed on the licensed premises. This includes, at a minimum, removing or separating the cannabis goods from any packaging or container and rendering it unrecognizable and unusable. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to require vape cartridges to be emptied of cannabis oil prior to disposal, provided that the vape cartridge itself is unusable at the time of disposal.

Cannabis waste on the licensed premises shall be secured in a receptacle or area that is restricted to the licensee, its employees, or an authorized waste hauler.”

Great start to a national individual project! If the nation won’t act, in the meantime, what about starting your cannabis recycling with one small individual step?

Try simply NOT THROWING AWAY ALL YOUR PERSONAL CANNABIS PACKAGING AND PLASTICS, as highlighted in Laurie Parker’s recent National Geographic article: An old-school plan to fight plastic pollution gathers steam.

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