The cannabis industry is rapidly growing in the United States, and as such, is increasingly adopting similar methods and strategies as the traditional agriculture industry. Those methods are all too often creating unsustainable practices and norms that we experience on a daily basis, two of the most important being waste and pollution. Unfortunately, as the cannabis sector industrializes and looks to expand their profit margins, they too are showing signs of creating these same consequences. 


Cannabis has long been associated with the “tree-hugger” and environmentalist mindset, as well as ideals of peace and love for all – including the Earth. It’s a shame to see how many of these companies taking over the industry are taking cannabis in a direction that flaunt in the face of this goal, even though they may say or market their products as otherwise. If you’ve ever walked into a dispensary, or researched cannabis products, you’ve certainly seen a significant amount of single-use packaging for anything ranging from edibles to vaporizer carts to pop-tops for flower. A significant amount of this ends up in landfills, as having been used for cannabis products, they cannot be recycled unless done so in a very specific fashion (which is often seen as prohibitive by most cannabis users).


Aside from waste created from packaging, the process of farming cannabis often introduces pollution to both the air and the ground it’s being grown in. As many companies seek to increase their yield in each crop cycle, the introduction of pesticides and fertilizers used in the agricultural industry is becoming increasingly common in the cannabis industry. The most common fertilizers in farming are chemical fertilizers, as they disperse nutrients much faster than organic fertilizers. However, these chemically made fertilizers often kill many of the organisms in the soil it’s added to, not only completely disrupting the ecosystems within them, but also hurting the long-term sustainability of the soil in the process as well. By disrupting those underlying ecosystems and neglecting that soil, it becomes unusable for future crops relatively quickly, and the process is simply repeated elsewhere or even more, harsher fertilizers become necessary. Beyond fertilizers, pesticides present a similar issue. When sprayed on plants, they will often eventually seep into the soil below creating similar issues as the fertilizers. However, as pesticides are airborne and above ground, they can not only be blown and spread by wind into surrounding areas affecting areas outside of the farm, but also can be washed into water sources by rain. This pollutes the water that we drink, as well as the water which is home to vast and necessary aquatic ecosystems.


Fortunately, some cannabis companies are intent on remaining green and sustainable to the environment. They are adopting practices of both farming and packaging that are less impactful, and sometimes even regenerative, to the environment. Instead of using single-use pop-tops for flower or vaporizers, they have opted to use recyclable glass containers, which are more durable and better at preserving the products they contain. Similarly, regenerative farmers are focused on using sustainable farming practices such as proper crop rotation and lightly used, organic fertilizers so as not to overproduce on the same land. This helps improve the soil’s quality and ability to retain nutrients, helping to promote better plant growth naturally and reduce the need for any fertilizers in the first place. Finally, growers making use of the sun’s energy via either outdoor growth or the use of clean energy (i.e., solar or wind, among others), eliminate the exceedingly high amounts of energy needed for growing cannabis plants indoors, creating disproportionate amounts of carbon emissions.


What this Means for Consumers

What this means for you as an environmentally conscious consumer is that your choices matter and can make a difference. When looking to buy cannabis products, researching, and looking for companies that are taking part in these sustainability practices is important. Helping these companies by buying their products and supporting them over their competitors, who may not be utilizing these sustainable methods, can not only help them grow and offer their products for less, but normalize these practices within the industry across the board. Using our collective purchasing power as cannabis consumers, we can shape this growing industry for the better, and push for the cannabis industry to be one that not only helps communities and individuals in the short term but can also help our environment over the course of decades.


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