Inside Del Rey Oak’s Monterey Bay Alternative Medicine, various strains of pot are carefully displayed behind clean glass cases. The floor is polished tile and the countertops are spotless, with bright lights illuminating the entire room.
But as the sparkling new age of legal marijuana puts its best face forward, one facet of the industry has flown under the radar – weed waste and disposal.
Waste from pot production is twofold: It can be the seemingly benign organic waste produced mostly from leaf trims during cultivation and processing, or more hazardous chemical byproducts from distilling cannabis oils.
Just as restaurants can’t throw fryer grease down the drain because it can wreak havoc on sewage pipes, disposing of cannabis waste improperly can pose a danger to public health.
It’s not just exposure to chemicals that’s the problem. GAIACA, a disposal-consultation-firm-turned-fully-licensed-weed-waste-business, observed clients are producing as much waste as they are useable product, according to the company partners.
“Our aim is to reduce the state’s cannabis industry carbon footprint,” says Garrett Rodewald, GAIACA’s founder. “We want to make as much as the waste reusable as possible.”
GAIACA borrows inspiration from proven businesses in more developed marijuana economies like Bokashicycle in Nevada and Kind Redesigned in Colorado. It first sends its clients trackable, tamper-proof barrels that can be filled with organic byproduct and/or expired buds and oils. The barrels are then taken back to the GAIACA facility, where the team starts fermenting its contents. The anaerobic process – devoid of oxygen – takes two weeks (as opposed to six months with normal composting).
If the finished product is usable soil it’s donated back to cities looking for free topsoil, or to universities who want to study it, including CSU Monterey Bay, Cal Poly and UC Santa Cruz. If there are no takers, it goes to a landfill.
Rodewald points out that marijuana matter – which normal disposal companies are not permitted to handle because of its psychoactive properties – can turn moldy if not composted or stored properly. Moldy marijuana could “[create] a brand new biohazard,” he says.
The creation of cannabis oils, which often involves butane, produces toxic byproducts like acetone (also found in nail polish) and glycol (commonly found in paint cleaner). If those materials are left on-site, Rodewald says it could harm people present.
Leaving byproduct around also can encourage opportunistic visitors.
“There is the issue of people attempting to raid byproduct left on-site,” Rodewald says.
GAICA isn’t yet licensed to handle hazardous waste – i.e., anything tainted by the aforementioned chemicals – but the company is in the process of getting such a license.
GAIACA has been consulting businesses on waste disposal for about a year now, but they’ve only taken on the disposal themselves since March. Going forward, the company hopes to be a model that up-and-coming cannabis waste disposal businesses can follow.
“Weed waste is unaccounted for in a lot of counties,” Rodewald says. “We want to make sure we’re doing it in a legitimate and environmentally responsible way.”