February 6, 2023

Tag: environment

Vape pen recycling program ends due to lack of use

A pilot project to help address the challenges of consumer waste from cannabis vape pens has come to an end, due to a lack of participation. 

The national vape recycling program was first announced in December 2020, a partnership with the Cannabis Council of Canada, along with several large Canadian cannabis companies and a Canadian e-recycling provider.

The goal of the program was to address the excess waste from vape pens, especially single-use, disposable vape pens that contain a lithium battery. 

In talking to retailers over time, it’s clear people are looking for a place for those carts, which are not really easily recyclable.

George Smitherman, Cannabis council Canada (C3)

As industry trends have shifted away from disposable vape pens to primarily using disposable carts on a rechargeable base, there has been little buy-in to the program, explains George Smitherman, President and CEO of the Cannabis Council Canada (C3). 

The initial plan was to see how much demand there would be from consumers and to see if the program could pay for itself via the harvested waste from single-use pens, especially from more valuable inputs like lithium batteries. 

As the market shifts to carts, the challenge will be to see if there’s a way to create a revenue flow in recycling those products that can sustain the program. 

“Since we started the program, there’s been a really significant evolution of what’s getting into the collection boxes,” says Smitherman. “When we started, we were looking at a lot of the single-use vapes that had lithium batteries and stuff, but in talking to retailers over time, it’s clear people are looking for a place for those carts, which are not really easily recyclable.” 

In order to launch a new recycling program, Smitherman says he’s reaching out to other recyclers to see if that same value can be found in disposable vape carts.

“I know the need is there because I get so many emails from small chain retailers, all the time,” he says. 

“Long story short, I’m in the midst of interviewing different environmental service providers to try and recalibrate a team and take another run at this, possibly with a view towards (vape carts).”

 Quantum Lifecycle Partners did not respond to requests for comment.

The program had been launched in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, seeking to make advantage of the large numbers of private retailers in those provinces.


Metro Van seeking input on proposed cannabis VOC regs

Metro Vancouver is asking for input from industry and the public on proposed regulations for controlling emissions from cannabis growers and processors. 

A webinar will be held on October 21 and November 4, with staff giving an online presentation and fielding questions relating to their proposed emission management for cannabis production, processing and extraction operations in the Metro Vancouver region. 

Metro Vancouver, which encompasses more than 20 cities in BC’s Lower Mainland, first announced its plans to regulate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in 2019, holding stakeholder meetings in late 2020 and early 2021. In August, Metro Vancouver then released a new proposal based on the feedback. This latest round of stakeholder meetings will cover their newest proposal, as well as a discussion of a timeline for implementation. 

The agency will be accepting feedback until November 30, 2021.

Under the proposal, cannabis facilities that would potentially be covered by the emission regulation include operations conducting indoor cultivation, cultivation by several individuals in cooperatives, cannabis processing operations such as drying, trimming and harvesting of cannabis plant material, and cannabis oil and active ingredient extraction facilities. 

“We believe these regulations establish a concerning precedent that cultivators in other industries in British Columbia should be watching closely.”

Cannabis Cultivators of British Columbia

However, outdoor cultivation, personal growing of cannabis plants, and cultivation under the federal Industrial Hemp Regulations will not be covered under the proposed regulation.

Metro Vancouver’s concern is the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by cannabis itself, as well as nitrogen oxides produced from heating and lighting associated with indoor cannabis facilities. Their intention is to create a set of regulations for more than a dozen cannabis production companies operating in the region (cultivation, processing, etc).

​​Volatile organic compounds are emitted from all plants, including cannabis, and can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is dangerous to human health.

A representative for the Cannabis Cultivators of British Columbia (CCBC) says they are worried that if passed the new requirements could have unintended negative consequences not only for cannabis, but for all forms of agriculture in the province. In a statement to StratCann, the CCBC said:

“Members of CCBC have expressed concerns with some of the proposed emission regulations put forward by Metro Vancouver. Some of the currently proposed regulations impose requirements on cultivation and processing which create negative impacts and applications that are not fully understood by Metro Vancouver. We believe these regulations establish a concerning precedent that cultivators in other industries in British Columbia should be watching closely. CCBC continues to engage with Metro Vancouver to discuss our concerns in the hopes that we may arrive at an acceptable resolution. We have a meeting scheduled with Metro Vancouver later this month and will know better after that what the next steps in the process will be and how we intend to proceed.” 

Categories

The proposed regulatory requirements to manage VOC emissions from cannabis production and processing facilities fall under five categories:

  1. Emission Management Plan;
  2. Emission Control Requirements;
  3. Complaints Response Plan;
  4. Required Records and Reporting; and
  5. Minimum Distance Requirements.

Greenhouses that use natural ventilation in growing areas and were operational before March 31, 2021, will be required to have greater than 70% control efficiency for growing areas until July 1, 2031, and greater than 95% control efficiency thereafter.

Fees

Metro Vancouver is proposing a registration fee of $2,000 to cover the cost of the registration process, the review of the application and an initial inspection, plus an annual regulatory fee. 

Under the proposed rules, new facilities would also not be allowed to be located more than 200 metres from land zoned for residential use, hospitals, schools, daycares, playgrounds and community care facilities.

Much of Metro Van’s proposal is based on similar regulations imposed in Denver, Colorado. More information on that is can be found here and here.

Editor’s note: This article initially stated these proposed rules only applied to those licence holders with more than 200m2 of canopy. Metro Vancouver has clarified these proposed rules apply to all canopy sizes. Those with more than 200m2 of canopy must adhere to additional requirements. For example:

For facilities with a growing area that is greater than 200m2, emission management plan must be
prepared by a qualified professional (QP) and submitted to the Metro Vancouver District Director for approval.

Activated carbon filters must be operated and maintained per manufacturer’s specifications and,
for facilities with growing area greater than 200 m2, according to QP guidance.

The emission management plan for a cannabis producer will be required to specify the number of activated carbon filters, sizes, mass of activated carbon, air flow rates and replacement
frequency of activated carbon. For facilities with growing area greater than 200 m2, a QP must
determine these parameters. For those facilities with growing area greater than 200 m2, a QP must confirm the replacement frequency and specification of activated carbon once the facility is in operation by conducting at least three Butane Activity tests (ASTM D5742), separated by at least six weeks and analyzing a minimum of three representative activated carbon filters or samples per test.


Meeting the challenge of vape recycling

The cannabis industry has been criticized for poor environmental practices. Some products are made with palm oil, and brands have been slow to embrace environmentally conscious packaging – though that’s hardly the industry’s fault

One area where there’s been some buzz has been around vape recycling. However, this is a complex process that comes with its fair share of challenges. Battery recycling already exists, but cannabis cartridges include a mix of metal, plastic, and at times substantial residue.

Back in December of last year, the Cannabis Council of Canada (C3) announced that it had partnered with 48North, Aurora Cannabis, Aphria, Canopy Growth, and Cronos Group to pilot a national vape recycling program. 

The retailers are essential – they’re on the front line… and can help to make this a success.

George Smitherman, C3

“We’ve been having a larger conversation, and expect that as we move beyond the pilot more of the industry will come on board,” says George Smitherman, President and CEO of C3. “We’ll be keeping other LPs posted as we progress.”

In the program, the LPs provide access to numerous retailers, who place vape recycling boxes on their counters. The boxes, which have a collection compartment for vape pens and batteries, and another for cartridges, have been sent out to more than 200 stores in BC, Alberta, and Ontario.

“The retailers are essential – they’re on the front line,” says Smitherman. “The budtenders have the relationships with the consumers, and can help to make this a success.”

C3 and its industry partners also enlisted Canadian e-recycling provider Quantum Lifecycle Partners (‘Quantum’), to handle the various elements embedded in vape technology.

“There are two specific challenges related to recycling this product stream,” says Clayton Miller, Vice President, Business Development, Recycling for Quantum. “First, the presence of cannabis resin means the product needs to be treated with utmost security and care when it comes to disposal. And second, batteries are a challenge for electronics recyclers because that can be a fire hazard in the shredding process.”

Miller says that Quantum is familiar with the high-security requirements of its customers, so that isn’t an issue. And the opportunity is real, even though demand is small at present.

“This is a growing market,” says Miller. “We hope to play a role in the development of comprehensive and robust recycling solutions for vape products.”

Ideally, retailers are more than participants and are keen on advising consumers to fill the boxes. From there, returning the boxes is critical to the program’s success. The size of the program also matters.

Not many customers know that vapes can be recycled, so I think more awareness is key to the success of not only the program but the industry as a whole.

Amber Craig, FOUR20 Premium Market

“We actually took part in another vape recycling project with Auxly Group that launched in October 2020, but we could only get eight of our locations into the program,” says Amber Craig, Chief Merchandising Officer at FOUR20 Premium Market. “So, when this other recycling opportunity with Cannabis Council of Canada was presented to us, we added the rest of the stores in our portfolio to the program.”

If the customer is central to the process, then that means that consumer education is critical. At present, not many customers are asking about vape recycling, which puts the onus on retail staff to make it a talking point. Many customers are still looking for disposable vape pens, and it’s up to the retailers to inform them that that’s not sustainable.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this entire process much more difficult. As a result of the lockdown, C3 is still in the early stages of data collection. Because there has been less store traffic, fewer than 10% of the recycling boxes have come in. C3 will be working closely with its retail partners over the summer to get the remaining units.

“We’ll need to get a high percentage of boxes returned in order to get meaningful data,” says Smitherman. “This is a highly specialized product, and it would be hard to leverage the data on small volumes. However, I think we’ll get enough back, and in fairly short order.”

There was a slowdown during the height of COVID-19, however, as stores began to open more, we have seen the recycling levels rise back up.

Alex Payne, TerraCycle

There has also been movement toward more general cannabis packaging recycling, notably with the Cannabis Retailer Recycling Program, which was launched in December of 2019. This program is led by two LPs, Tweed and Tokyo Smoke, with the recycling being handled by TerraCycle, and has also been hit by the COVID-19 lockdown.

“There was a slowdown during the height of COVID-19,” says Alex Payne, a spokesperson for TerraCycle. “However, as stores began to open more, we have seen the recycling levels rise back up.”

Overall, this program has seen some success. It includes both the Cannabis Packaging Recycling Program and the Cannabis Vapes Recycling Program, which accepts all Canopy Growth produced vape products, including cartridges and batteries. To date, over 9.4 million pieces of cannabis packaging waste have been recycled by TerraCycle.  

One issue is that, when it comes to cannabis product recycling, there is more interest in, and awareness of, general packaging issues.

“Not many customers know that vapes can be recycled, so I think more awareness is key to the success of not only the program but the industry as a whole,” says Craig from FOUR20 Premium Market. “Flower packaging is what we get asked about most when it comes to recycling. We’re in the midst of developing an additional recycling option for other cannabis packaging besides vapes.”

Though the pandemic has certainly slowed uptake, the movement appears to be gaining some momentum. Earlier this year, C3 launched its Sustainability Caucus, which has expanded to include packaging. 

“People don’t have to be C3 members to be part of the Sustainability Caucus,” says Smitherman. “We welcome affiliates, as we want to democratize the process. We have other caucuses, too, including the Vape Caucus, which helps address a lot of the regulatory action in the vape area.”  

One issue worth addressing is that recycling isn’t considered in the design from the outset.

“This means choices are made which may raise the cost of recycling down the line, or even make it nearly impossible,” says Miller from Quantum. “Since the cost of recycling has historically been borne by the consumer, this isn’t something most producers have historically considered.”

One bright light is the Ontario Government’s recent transition to Extended Producer Responsibility for products such as tires, packaging, batteries and electronics.

“This is a first step toward putting those costs back to the producer,” says Miller. “Over time, we believe this will result in a range of products being released into the market that will ultimately be easier and more economical to recycle.”


Ovation AG Ltd

COMPANY:Ovation AG Ltd
LICENCE TYPE:Micro Cultivation
APPROACH:indoor
TIMELINE:~ 6 months (August 2020 to February 2021)
COST:$1.1 million
FACILITY:Indoor facility, geothermal infrastructure

Dustin Steckle says a micro cultivation licence brought him back to the family farm in Ontario. 

Steckle says he spent 15 years working in plant nutrition and plant health in corporate agriculture before deciding he wanted to start a cannabis farm with his dad on the family farm. 

Shortly after legalization, he began the conversation with his dad and began the construction of an indoor facility for Ovation AG inside an existing barn on the farm on the shore of Lake Huron. He formally applied in August 2020 and the company received its cultivation licence on February 12, 2021. 

We wanted to go the sustainable route. And over time, the cost can be amortized, especially considering the savings in heating and cooling costs.

“We thought cannabis would be the best way to keep it in the family and expand and continue to farm for many years to come,” he explains. 

The indoor facility, with 3 flowering rooms, a mother room, and admin space, which is heated and cooled using only a new geothermal installation, cost just over $1 million to build. Steckle says the addition of the geothermal infrastructure was a large portion of this cost but was worth it.

It’s just more environmentally friendly,” says the company’s founder. “We wanted to go the sustainable route. And over time, the cost can be amortized, especially considering the savings in heating and cooling costs.”

Ovation plans to stay small, at least for the time being, says Steckle, and wants to focus on cultivation, not processing or packaging. 

“We want to do one thing and do it well, which is growing the best cannabis we can. And so we’re happy to partner with others to get to market”

Now that they’re licensed, Steckle says they are ready to get things into motion and are already in conversation with other growers to help source genetics to fill their grow rooms. 

“We’re excited and ready to hit the ground running. It’s been a long process. It was November 2018 when the first conversations about this started, almost 2 and a half years ago.”

All the work is currently managed by Steckle and his father, who still also runs the family farm, managing their corn, soybeans, hay and cattle, although as the company grows they hope to add additional employees. The farm has been in the family for 97 years now.

“As we grow we’ll add employees as needed, especially for new crops and harvest and trimming, but remaining lean and nimble is part of our farmer mentality,” says Steckle. “If one guy can do it in 18 hours, he’s the one to do it”

This lean and mean mentality is important, he says, because the licensing process can be challenging, and applicants need to be prepared to do a lot of the work themselves. His advice to other applicants is to be fully dedicated and ready to work very hard. 

“If this is something you’re thinking about, you need to be 110% serious about it. If you’re not in wholeheartedly to make it successful, it’s just not going to go. It’s easy to get down and get frustrated, especially in the first few months after you apply and you don’t hear anything from Health Canada, but you need to be tough and stick with it.”


Cannabis extract may protect honey bees from pesticides

A team of researchers at the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Poland say they have discovered a way to use cannabis to protect honey bees from pesticides.

The team at the Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology, Institute of Biological Sciences,
Department of Immunobiology, in Lublin Poland, was looking at addressing many issues relating to honey bees survival, from pesticides like neonicotinoids, to using probiotic bacterial strains, dedicated to honeybees to the antimicrobial properties of honeys.

During their research, the team says they discovered that preparations of cannabis extracts could protect honeybees against the negative effects of neonicotinoids and prolong honeybee lifespan. Neonicotinoids are insecticides derived from nicotine and as such, and are known to be harmful to many insects, both beneficial and non beneficial to crops, including honey bees.

Lead research Professor Aneta Ptaszyńska was quoted in thefirstnews.com as saying her team started out by looking to see if the known effects of cannabis extract on humans would apply to bees, as well.

“There are reports that hemp extract protects human nerve cells, we decided to check whether it would be the same in the case of a bee. For now, we know that the extract extends the life of bees that have been exposed to pesticides. The tested insects lived comparatively as long as those that had never had contact with harmful substances.”

“Bees are dying because they are malnourished and weakened by the use of pesticides and then they start to suffer from  various diseases. One of them is nosemosis. It attacks the digestive system, causes weakness and cachexia (muscle loss). Bees cannot digest and absorb nutrients and then they simply die.”

The team is now looking to patent their discoveries, while extending testing outside of a laboratory setting. The research was financed by the Polish National Agency for Academic.

A study from last year noted the effectiveness at hemp plants, especially male plants, at attracting numerous pollinators, including several varieties of bees.


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