Cannabis & Our Carbon Footprint

A couple weeks ago, we talked a little about the potential problems with hemp in places that also allow outdoor Cannabis for consumption to be grown. You may ask: why would this be a problem in Colorado where legally grown consumable Cannabis comes from indoor facilities?

The answer: for just that reason.

In an industry that has the potential to be truly “green”, the carbon footprint in Colorado from indoor cultivation is staggering. As of 2015, Xcel energy sold around 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to indoor grows in Colorado— which is the equivalent of the power supplied to 35,000 homes. And this number has only grown since.

This isn’t even addressing the massive amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides the industry currently consumes to maintain a productive, profitable output. And let’s not forget about the staggering amount of plastic being produced for every one of these products, as well as for the final form in which all products will reach the consumer.

While reducing the energy consumed in a grow can be an intimidating and costly endeavor—it’s imperative. One effort being put into place is that of an offset fund for grow facilities called the Boulder County Energy Impact Offset Fund. If specific facilities don’t meet a required percentage of energy consumption through renewables, they pay a fee of $2.16 per kWh to the fund. The fund then directs that money to educating those at the facilities on best practices for energy consumption as well as other carbon offset projects that the county is developing.

Another area of concern is the amount of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides needed to manage the painstaking effort of harvesting quality flowers. One alternative could use no-till cultivation. Large scale grow operations claim they can’t, or rather aren’t willing to, make the switch to something like a living soil; but over time a growing medium like this actually requires less added supplements than a traditional soil based grow would— which reduces costs.

And there’s the daunting, crudely assertive problem of plastic waste. Over 50% of plastic produced will be used once and then thrown away; which might be why nearly 40% of our world’s ocean surface is occupied by plastic. Currently there are companies working on offsetting the use of plastic through the containers in which final products come. SANA packaging is one that is working right now to utilize hemp based plastic, a biodegradable form with a long enough shelf life to last well beyond our needs.

Needless to say, reducing an already impactful carbon footprint can be a tricky thing. But this industry has the social obligation to do so. An industry whose core foundation, after thousands of years of uninhibited productive use, was forced into the shadows of society has the responsibility to change a very harsh stigma. The stigma at hand is of not only consumers of this plant, but of the often-devastating effects of our relentless search for material gain. From the dirt, through its life, and back to the dirt, this plant contributes immensely to the health of this planet. As the local caretakers, we have the responsibility to do the same.

Patrick Riddle is the author of this blog and the co-founder of Third day co-op, which strives to get Cannabis medicine to those who need it most.

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