The pioneering cannabis industry is a genuinely fascinating sector for a multitude of reasons. Not only does legal marijuana have a stellar economic and societal upside, medical marijuana has tremendous potential for patients with a variety of health issues throughout the nation. Cannabis is even boosting ancillary industries, from real estate to security, and creating a plethora of unique job opportunities. The cannabis industry is unlike any other market our nation has seen.
While the legal marijuana industry is thriving and replenishing economies across the United States and beyond, the environmental impact of the industry is finally coming to light. Like usual, people often forget about the Earth when it comes to a strong desire, such as legal marijuana. Even though cannabis is a natural self-sustaining plant, it requires a variety of other resources to produce. As the industry continues to boom, mass production of marijuana is pulling water, electricity, and other resources from local communities — not to mention the insane amount of waste produced by the legal market. The overall environmental impact of the industry is much more significant than the common person would imagine.
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Electricity Consumption Within the Cannabis Industry
The environmental impact of the industry starts with the amount of water and electricity used to mass-produce legal cannabis. Legalization has obviously come a drastic increase in demand, and to produce enough cannabis to meet this demand and follow all state regulations, commercial cultivation centers must grow hundreds of thousands of plants at a time. In states like Colorado, most of its legal marijuana must be produced indoors. Plus, most of these licensed cultivation centers are operational 24/7; even if employees are not present, the plants still need light and water to grow properly. Most commercial grows now have automated systems which control the amount of light throughout the day.
Regardless of whatever systems they're using, there's some universal basic electrical equipment that any grower typically needs to properly care for their cannabis plants:
- Lighting Equipment
- Air Conditioning
- Humidity Control
- Automation Systems
An average household in Boulder uses only 630 kilowatt-hours per month. A report from 2015, however, revealed that a single 5,000 square foot indoor grow in Boulder used about 41,808 kilowatt-hours per month.
To further put this into perspective, a four-plant lighting module uses the same amount of energy as 29 refrigerators... That's a lot of energy.
- Colorado claims that 2% of its energy consumptionin the state goes to cannabis production.
- When Colorado first legalized marijuana, 45% of Denver’s increase in energy demand was for electricity to power cannabis facilities.
- California claims nearly 3% of its energy consumptionin the state goes to cannabis production.
On average, it is safe to say that one kilogram of cannabis costs about $2,500 in energy to produce. When you consider the fact that there are over 600 cultivation facilities in the state of Colorado alone, these statistics become even more concerning. California produces even more marijuana than Colorado. Sure, a lot of California’s weed is grown outdoors, but even greenhouses require some energy consumption.
Potential Electricity Solutions
With the continuous expansion of the cannabis industry, and thus the continuous expansion of its environmental impact, people are, at least, beginning to come up with and implement some helpful practices.
- More and more commercial cannabis growsare taking advantage of stellar greenhouse facilities which utilize natural light and airflow. It still requires some electricity for humidity control and automated systems, but this is far less than a fully-indoor grow.
- Further legalization will allow for states with prime outdoor cannabis environmentsto grow more of a supply, which will lower the need for indoor grows.
- States are regulating the amount of energy a cultivation facility may use, forcing cannabis facilities to use renewable energy sources or pay into a state-renewable-energy-fund.
- New grow lightsare using less energy with better technology, and many grows are even using solar-powered greenhouses to fix the energy problem.
Water Consumption Within the Cannabis Industry
In our world today, water is a hot commodity. A mature marijuana plant needs at least 23 liters of water a day. To put this into perspective, a grape plant only requires around 13 liters a day to grow properly. While these numbers may vary depending on the grow environment and region, it is a fact that cannabis requires much more water than other agricultural plants. In short, mass producing cannabis involves a ton of water.
A greenhouse-grown marijuana plant requires around 22 liters of water per plant. When these numbers are blown up to account for commercial cannabis facilities, the water consumption skyrockets to an unbelievable rate. In Colorado, many large cultivation facilities buy up their very own water supply to ensure they have enough water. In California, there are reports of illegal cannabis grows drying up multiple creeks and watersheds as well.
The environmental impact of the industry is even higher when it's outdoors. Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers produce a vast potential for harmful runoff into local wildlife. For this reason, legalization is still the best way to control all aspects of the industry, including environmental impact. With legalization, regulation is possible, which is much better than having illegal or “trespass” grows to do as they please. At a wildlife conservation in California, nearly 500,000 gallons of water was diverted to “trespass” cannabis grows using irrigation lines. Without regulation, the environmental impact becomes even higher.
Potential Water Solutions
Some potential solutions to the cannabis industry's environmental impact in terms of water usage include:
- Many legal cultivation facilities are reusing and filtering their water supply for future harvests.
- Better technology limits runoff and increases a plant’s water absorption, which means less water is needed per plant.
- Automated systems that control watering are becoming more widely-used, which help to further prevent water waste.
Plastic Waste Within the Cannabis Industry
Even though cannabis cultivation requires an insane amount of water and energy, its plastic usage is a far more pressing problem. Our society already has a significant problem with plastic waste affecting Earth. The rate of plastic waste coming from the cannabis industry is merely adding to the problem. Due to legal marijuana being a highly-regulated market, every single marijuana product must be in childproof packaging and leave the dispensary in a closed bag. Some products even have plastic containers within plastic containers.
A recent estimation from an expert says the cannabis industry could be using upwards of a billion units of plastic waste each year. This number may be even higher, considering that the legal sector is continuing to expand nation-wide and globally every year. While many states are looking at banning single-use plastics, the cannabis industry will struggle to follow such guidelines. Even the rate of disposable vape pens produces more plastic waste than most consumers would ever think. If people think not using paper straws will save the turtles, they should start thinking about refillable cannabis cartridges!
Potential Waste Solutions
Potential solutions that many cannabis companies are beginning to delve into to reduce this environmental impact include:
- Many packaging companies are looking into alternative plastics. Hemp is most likely to be the next best plastic, once it's more widely produced.
- Some packaging companies are re-using plastics that are removed from the ocean.
- Individual ancillary waste companies are allowing cannabis packaging to be recycled.
- More cannabis facilities are trying to recycle their extra plastic waste.
- Companies are turning discarded plant material into paper for packaging.
The Earth Provides Us with Cannabis, & It's Up to Us to Provide for the Earth
The environmental impact of the industry is far greater than many other markets in our society today. While it may seem like there are only minor solutions to fix these problems within the cannabis industry, further legalization will bring stronger regulations and ancillary services. Industrial hemp will play a significant factor in balancing out the environmental impact of the industry. From hemp plastics to hemp paper, industrial hemp is the natural alternative our society needs — not to mention, a single acre of hemp produces more oxygen than a single tree. More and more research must go into the environmental impact of the legal cannabis industry. We first need to understand the problem to discover viable solutions. Regardless, consumers and industry experts must take responsibility for our Earth.
Find a local growstore near you to help you build your own greenhouse grow, today!
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