US: Illicit market fears are hampering cannabis waste recycling efforts in California

As American cannabis has grown from a cottage industry to a $25 billion-a-year commercial enterprise that employs 428,059 folks nationwide, the product that weed has become now often bears little resemblance to the product that used to be sold raw. Flower, once delivered in sandwich bags, now arrives wrapped in child-safety-locked, plastic-lined mylar pouches; every gram of hash seemingly needs its own glass jar, plastic lid, and cardboard box; and half-gram vape pens must often be dug from three times their own weight in display and security packaging before use. And while most of the outer packaging can be easily recycled, vaporizer cartridges themselves can be far more problematic to dispose of.

Cannabis is more popular than ever in the US — 44 percent of adults have access to it, either medically or recreationally, more than 90 percent of adults support its full legalization, and a 2021 Weedmaps survey suggests that usage has increased by 50 percent since the start of the pandemic. What's more, edibles and concentrates continue to rise in popularity among all age groups, from boomers to doomers. This increased demand for vape cartridges — both near-ubiquitous 510-threads like those from Rove or more specialized carts like the Pax Era Pods — has led to their increased production and, in turn, their inevitable arrival in American landfills. In California, the nation's largest legal cannabis market, 510 cartridges are quite popular but, due to the state's strict hazardous waste disposal regulations, difficult to dispose of in a responsible manner.

On the production side, virtually every ingredient, component, growth medium, nutrient, castoff, trimming, and scrap is carefully destroyed, typically either dismantled on-site or rendered unusable before being shipped to a certified waste facility. At the cultivation level, Taylor Vozniak, Sales and Marketing Manager for California cannabis waste management company Gaiaca, told Engadget, "it would be planted after they've been trimmed, grow medium — that's either going to be soil or rock wool or cocoa husk — any sort of water nutrients or pesticides."

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