It’s time to look at the impact the growing cannabis industry is having on our environment. And it’s also time to do something about it. As the cultivation of cannabis continues to ramp up in the US and across the globe, eyes are increasingly turning to the carbon footprint this industry places on the planet and consequently how cannabis can be produced more sustainably.
It takes a lot of energy and inputs to produce the cannabis products that have become so popular, e.g., CBD oil and recreational and medical marijuana. For example, one study cited in several articles estimates that cannabis cultivation uses up 1% of the nation’s electricity in the US.
Put another way, the energy to produce one kilogram of cannabis flower is equivalent to driving a car across the country seven times!
It’s not just the electricity and other utilities used in a grow room that produces harmful greenhouse gases. It’s the way that products, such as potting soils and fertilizers, are harvested and manufactured. For example, peat-based growing mediums, so popular with greenhouse growers, are stripped from peat bogs in the north that took thousands of years to form and are home to various wildlife and wildflowers.
Thus, there is a call to grow cannabis more sustainably. It is not only good for the environment; it’s good for your bottom line. So let’s take a look at some things growers can do to help the planet and their pocketbooks.
Use a sustainable growing medium.
Coco coir comes to mind as a sustainable growing medium because of how it can be harvested and reused in the grow room. Coco coir is a waste product of coconuts. Found between the hard internal shell and the outer coat of the coconut is a fibrous material that can be turned into a valuable growing medium.
How coco coir is harvested is essential as well. Unfortunately, not all companies manufacture coco coir sustainably. At Riococo World Wide, we’re committed to sustainable manufacturing practices, including relying on the energy from the sun to dry and sterilize products, rather than using carbon-generating heaters and lights.
The other thing that makes coco coir a sustainable product is that it can be reused in the grow room for many years, unlike some products growers use in hydroponics like rock wool, which will eventually end up in the landfill. Even peat moss has a relatively short life in the grow room compared to coco coir.
Utilize the sun and LED Lighting.
Providing artificial light in controlled growing situations can be very costly to the planet and your pocketbook. High-pressure sodium (HPS) lights, while very effective at producing quality cannabis flower, will speed up the electric meter and ultimately release tons of carbon into the atmosphere.
LED lighting offers an alternative to grid-sucking HPS lights. However, does it go far enough? Lighting is one of the most significant expenses for growers and a bane to those concerned about climate change. A better alternative, where possible, is to grow cannabis outdoors utilizing the sun or in greenhouses. One of the largest suppliers of cannabis to dispensaries in Michigan, Highlife Farms, is adding greenhouses to their operation, which until now has consisted of LED lighting in a warehouse. Home hobbyists can utilize the sun from a south-facing window to start clones and seedlings.
Another option for growers is using solar, and wind to power grow rooms. These green technologies appear to be in their infancy stages in the cannabis industry, with few indoor grows relying solely on either one. The Canadian cannabis company Aurora has taken steps to add solar power as an energy source to power their greenhouses. And Eco Firma Farms, out of Canby, Oregon, purchases electricity from local wind farms to reduce their carbon footprint.
Switch to organic fertilizers and pesticides.
Growers can reduce their carbon footprint and most likely save money by relying more on organic fertilizers and pesticides.
It takes more energy to produce these products than it does to produce organic-based compounds. For instance, nitrogenous (ammonia-based) fertilizers require vast amounts of natural gas in processing. According to one source, in comparison, inorganic pesticides require less energy to produce than does fertilizer.
Organic compounds like worm castings, perlite, fishbone meal, and guano can supply cannabis with the nutrients it needs and can be added to growing mediums like coco coir. Unlike soluble nitrogen-based fertilizers, which are so prevalent in traditional greenhouses and can leach into underground aquifers, these organic fertilizers stay bound up in the soil and improve the soil structure by encouraging microbial action. While inorganic fertilizers require inputs of energy to produce and transport, the amount of carbon-emitting gases produced is relatively small compared to chemical fertilizers.
There are several organic-based pesticides and biological controls that can be used in cannabis production. For instance, Neem Oil, produced from the Neem tree in Africa, effectively kills mites and aphids. In addition, an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy that includes biological controls is also a suitable method of reducing pressure from pests while being good to the environment.
Reduce and recycle your water.
The cannabis industry has to practice water conservation. This is especially true in the arid Southwest. Growing outdoors may be one way to reduce water usage in areas that receive regular rainfall. However, it is not always possible to grow outdoors for a lot of cannabis companies. Plus, some folks think cannabis grown indoors is of better quality than that grown outdoors. So, if possible, let mother nature provide the water for your plants. Otherwise, here are some things you can do to be more sustainable in your water consumption:
- Use a growing medium like coco coir which retains water well.
- Collect rainwater in a rain barrel to water your plants.
- Improve water retention by adding vermiculite to your growing medium (also add perlite to allow adequate drainage).
- Collect runoff from drip irrigation systems for reuse.
Growers will continue to find ways to grow cannabis more sustainably. So stay tuned to Riococo for the information you need to produce a good crop of cannabis in a way that’s healthy for the earth and your wallet.