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Climate ChangeSustainability within the Cannabis Industry

Sustainability within the Cannabis Industry

From CBD to medical marijuana, the advantages of the cannabis industry are well-documented. What has fallen by the wayside is the notice of sustainability within the cannabis industry; what’s the impact on the environment of the expansion and cultivation of cannabis? That is now compounded by legal cannabis and the legalization of recreational marijuana in states like California and Colorado. 

Below, we explore whether or not the cannabis industry is sustainable and what roadblocks stand in the best way of sustainability. We also outline cannabis and hemp environmental advantages to get the total scope of how these plants affect our planet. 

Is the Cannabis Industry Sustainable?

The cannabis industry overall has the potential to be sustainable, but its current setup is anything but. Much of its sustainability issues are as a consequence of legal restrictions, but some are related to industrial agriculture. 

Currently, the industry could also be seen as getting a pass from the green public, as many individuals look beyond a few of its clear environmental impacts due to its medicinal advantages and novel recreational legalization. The environmental impact of cannabis is widespread and diverse, with effects arising from all corners of the industry, starting from its cultivation to transportation. 

What Are the Negative Environmental Impacts of Hemp?


While there are plenty of commercial hemp environmental advantages, corresponding to creating sustainable products like hemp plastics, hemp paper, hemp fiber, hemp-based constructing materials, and more, the hemp and cannabis industries even have some negative environmental impacts. 

Let’s review a few of the negative impacts of cannabis and hemp crops. 

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Indoor Cannabis Facilities Are Huge Energy Draws

Hemp and marijuana cultivation is a $28 billion industry and it’s already the most important money crop within the U.S. Sadly, 42% of the cannabis growers within the U.S. grow their plants inside massive, windowless buildings. These cannabis factories are sometimes the scale of several Walmart stores with the identical energy consumption as a big data center — about 200 watts per square foot. 

This makes the carbon emissions of indoor cannabis growth a whopping 16 to 100 times larger than outdoor growth. 

The rationale these indoor cannabis cultivation factories are such big draws on the facility grid is due to the climate control they require. These factories have mechanically controlled temperature, humidity, air movement, carbon dioxide levels, and artificial lighting that is still on to match the usual daytime sunlight. 

Some cannabis growers try to create a green image by talking up hemp environmental advantages and using renewable energy, corresponding to installing solar panels. But installing solar panels doesn’t mean they’re actually using solar energy to run their facilities. It has been speculated that one such company has a 67,000-square-foot facility with solar panels but gets lower than 10% of their energy from the sun while burning natural gas to heat the constructing. 

The large problem is that changing this will likely require revising government policy. First, federal law prohibits the movement of cannabis products across state lines. This implies cannabis consumed in a single state must even be grown and cultivated there. Not all states have the optimal growing seasons for effective outdoor cultivation and indoor growing operations often devour energy that was not produced sustainably. 

Also, some states prohibit outdoor cannabis plant growth, forcing growers to construct these large indoor cultivation facilities which demand heavy energy use. 

Transportation Is One other Issue

One other factor impacting the sustainability of cannabis is the environmental damage attributable to transporting it. Not only can it not cross state lines per federal law, but some state laws also make transportation even tougher. For instance, California law requires cannabis to undergo 4 transportation mediums on its way from the cultivation site to the buyer: 

  1. Cannabis farmers transport their products to processors. 
  2. Processors transport the product to distributors. 
  3. Distributors transport to retail cannabis dispensaries. 
  4. Customers transport the retail cannabis to their homes for consumption. 

Making cannabis cultivation more sustainable would require policy changes on the state and national levels to permit more direct pathways to the tip user. This could cut down on the variety of touchpoints and the transportation needed to get the cannabis from the sphere to the buyer, reducing the air pollution and carbon footprint created. 

Soil Degradation Issues

All traditional agricultural activities — cannabis cultivation included — can result in soil degradation that threatens local ecosystems. This includes soil erosion, nutrient loss, reduced organic carbon stored throughout the soil, and increased acidity. 

The cannabis industry will help rectify this issue by encouraging practices that benefit from hemp’s environmental advantages. Careful planning for land use and ongoing testing will make sure the soil stays healthy. The industry can even install elements of regenerative agriculture — the interconnecting of farming and ecological systems — to assist make sure the soil stays viable. 

Watering Practices Cause Problems

Cannabis and hemp farming requires water, after all. A lot of the watering is finished with supply from artificial irrigation. This could cause agricultural runoff, leading to high concentrations of pesticides, insecticides, heavy metals, excess nutrients, and wastewater pollutants in nearby soil, watersheds, and surface water. 

Indoor growing brings its own water issues. Indoor growing facilities can overtax municipal water systems by discharging excess nutrients and industrial cleaners. This also puts extra load on local wastewater systems, which might result in more power consumption and increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels. 

The cannabis industry can rectify this by limiting water use to only the minimum gallons of water required for irrigation and installing an automatic irrigation system with water diversions that recapture and reuse water. The latter reduces water demand and the quantity of runoff, which limits its impact on water quality and public health. Whether this could occur via policy changes or self-regulation throughout the industry stays to be seen.  

How Much Plastic Waste Does the Cannabis Industry Produce?

Cannabis Industry Image of Marijuana Seeds and Plantssource

One other huge environmental protection issue facing the cannabis industry and hemp products is the plastic waste it produces. 

There’s not only waste from cultivation practices but additionally consumer waste streams from single-use packaging, vape cartridges and pens, redundant packaging, and more. This combined with poor waste-management models and inefficient recycling contributes to landfills, ocean pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Plastic is an enormous issue on this planet, with 5 trillion pieces floating in our oceans. Even those who make it to landfills can take as much as 1,000 years to degrade. The cannabis industry is piling onto the issue with an estimated 12.7 to 14.1 million kilos of plastic waste in just below a 12 months in Canada, based on a [Re] Waste study. 

Nevertheless, this issue may be rectified by making it easier to recycle cannabis packaging and establishing common sense laws to assist reduce the redundant packaging utilized in the cannabis industry. Much of this redundancy is for legal reasons, corresponding to health warnings, safety, crop information, and monitoring of sales. For instance, some states may require a health warning and knowledge on the crop the product got here from, resulting in larger packaging to suit all this information.  

Eliminating a few of the wasteful packaging through policy changes or reducing waste through more efficient recycling options will go a good distance in rectifying this. 

Cannabis and Hemp Environmental Advantages

We covered the negative environmental impacts of cannabis and hemp, but we’d be doing a disservice if we didn’t dive deeper into the environmental advantages of hemp and cannabis. Let’s take a look at a few of the more essential advantages. 


Amongst the numerous hemp environmental advantages is that various parts of hemp plants can create several forms of fuels. The plant’s cellulose content is pre-treated and converted into sugars through a process called cellulolysis. The sugars are then fermented and distilled into ethanol, which makes up 10% of most gasoline. 

There’s also hemp biodiesel that’s extracted from the hemp seed to be used in diesel engines. This fuel can work in any diesel engine and is biodegradable, protected to store and transport, and has a much higher flashpoint than standard diesel fuel. 

Carbon Sequestration

Like many other plants that undergo photosynthesis, cannabis and industrial hemp sequester carbon from the atmosphere. This will help lower the quantity of greenhouse gases within the atmosphere and help combat climate change. 

Will cannabis alone reverse years of excessive emissions? No, but it could possibly play a task in a grander scheme to lower the carbon within the atmosphere while providing quite a few other environmental advantages. 

Soil Cleansing

Industrial agriculture is understood for using pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, rodenticides, and other harmful chemicals, which get into the soil and make it unsafe for future growth. Other industries also pollute the soils with heavy metals and other chemicals. Cannabis and hemp environmental advantages include proven effectiveness at absorbing these contaminants from the soil through a process called phytoremediation. 

In Europe, cannabis is usually used this manner. In Italy, it’s a standard practice for farmers to make use of cannabis to assist combat soil contamination. Plus, researchers in Germany discovered hemp extracted lead, cadmium, and nickel from a sewage-contaminated area of land.  

Reduced Deforestation

Industrial hemp may be was hemp paper, giving us an alternative choice to cutting down trees and creating devastating deforestation. Plus, hemp matures in roughly 4 months, significantly faster than trees. This quicker maturation allows one acre of hemp to provide as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year period. 

Hemp paper can be durable enough to be recycled greater than twice as persistently as paper made out of tree pulp. It could actually be recycled as much as eight times, while tree pulp paper can only be recycled 3 times. With more production per acre and greater than double the recyclability, hemp paper can go a good distance in freeing us from tree-pulp-based paper. 

Sustainable Textiles

Cannabis plants will also be was certainly one of the strongest organic fabrics on this planet — 3 times stronger than cotton. This fabric is 100% biodegradable, and one major hemp environmental profit is that it requires a 3rd of the water cotton must grow. On top of that, it nets 220% more fiber than cotton. 

Cannabis Can Be Sustainable With Some Tweaks

Cannabis Sustainability Man Cultivates Plant


While there are cannabis and hemp environmental advantages, the industry as an entire has sustainability issues. These range from energy-hungry indoor growth to excessive plastic waste to wasteful transportation and packaging laws. Fortunately, these issues can easily be fixed through tweaks to federal and state laws, relaxing a few of the controls within the cannabis industry. 

While you might not give you the chance to alter the laws to assist improve the sustainability of the cannabis industry, you may do your part in offsetting a few of the cannabis industry’s environmental issues through carbon removal. By purchasing carbon offset credits from Terrapass, you may offset the carbon related to the expansion and cultivation of any cannabis or hemp products you devour. 

Delivered to you by terrapass.com
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