Cannabis Waste in Washington State Would Be Diverted from Landfills Under New Bill

Senate Bill 5376 was recently passed in the House in Washington state on Feb. 29, which would establish new rules for cannabis waste if it became law.

Currently, cannabis waste (specifically roots, stalks, leaves, and stems that aren’t considered to be “dangerous”) is dumped into landfills and produces methane gas as it decomposes. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 50% of landfill gas consists of methane, which is 28 times more effective than carbon dioxide to trap heat in the atmosphere.

SB-5376 aims to reduce the amount of cannabis waste, and methane gas, that is being produced in Washington landfills. If the law is signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, it would allow cannabis cultivators and processors to sell that plant material with 0.3% THC or less to the general public instead. According to a report from The Spokesman-Review, public buyers could use plant waste for composting or use it to make certain hemp products such as hempcrete, which can be used to make hempcrete or insulation, or hemp fiber products like clothing or animal bedding.

Seth Shamberg, who is the operations manager at Blue Roots Cannabis, a Spokane County-based producer and processor, told The Spokesman Review that they dump an estimated 2,200 pounds cannabis waste material into the landfill every month (approximately 26,400 pounds of material per year). “Usually, we mix it with dirt, cocoa, wood chips, all kinds of (organic material),” said Shamberg. “There isn’t anything recoverable once it’s been ground and mixed like that.”

The material fills up a 40-yard container dumpster, and costs $600 for each one. “This doesn’t do our society any good to be continuing to fill landfills, especially when it’s being mixed with nonorganic garbage piling up or being put into plastic contractor bags before it’s dumped,” Shamberg explained.

Current law in Washington state requires that processors mix cannabis waste with 50% other materials such as paper waste, cardboard waste, plastic waste, or soil. Many processors utilize cat litter or mulch wood chips.

According to Zero Waste Washington executive director Heather Trim mixing in non-cannabis material with cannabis waste only further contributes to the production of methane gas. Trim estimates that nearly 500-1,100 pounds of cannabis is dumped into landfills each week during the growing season in Washington state (based on approximately 1,000 licensed growers).

Trim added that SB-5376 is supported by a House Bill 1799, which was passed in Washington state in June 2022. The bill aims to “reduce methane emissions by diverting organic materials from municipal landfills where they would decompose and create the gas.” Currently, the goal is to require residents and businesses to remove organic material from the garbage and have it collected by an “organics collector or composting facility.”

According to SB-5376, cannabis waste can’t be reused if it’s considered to be “dangerous.” This includes both its THC content, but also any pesticides that were used during the cultivation process. Any materials that are toxic or flammable would not be permitted.

During the sale process, it must be available to the public “on an equal and nondiscriminatory basis.” All purchases and details, including the quantity, price, and name of person or organization who purchases the cannabis waste, must be reported to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board as well as the Department of Agriculture. “It would be nice to see the [Legislature] start to give more detail to some of the cannabis policies that we have in order to give us the opportunity to better rectify the issues that we face,” said Shamberg.

At the House meeting on Feb. 29, Rep. Shelley Kloba offered support of the bill, which she described as creating “a circular economy.” Cultivators would potentially be able to earn extra revenue, and those who buy the waste can benefit from reusing the products, while all parties help reduce waste in the landfill.

However, Rep. Leonard Christian expressed his opposition due to personal negative memories of how cannabis affected his youth. He explained how his mother worked as a cross country trucker and would leave money for he and his siblings. Unfortunately, his sibling would use the money to buy cannabis, leaving Christian only able to obtain food at school. “I’ve seen it wreck a lot of lives over the years,” said Christian. “It’s just not for me, and I’m not going to vote for a marijuana bill.”

A recent report published by Health Canada in January shows that the country has disposed of 3.7 million pounds of cannabis since legalization began in 2018. The disposed cannabis wasn’t waste however, an expert believes it was mainly product that was either too old or had too little THC to be sold. “There is no demand for old and low-THC products, so manufacturers of finished products are not buying this biomass as inputs,” said industry consultant Farrell Miller. “It’s likely low-quality material with no value. As consumers become more savvy with packaging dates on dried cannabis products, this trend will only continue.”

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