As the farming and processing of recreational cannabis grows across the state, so do piles of waste from the industry. But how does one earth-friendly farm that’s growing their single-serving products manage single-use waste?
“Our packaging is truly landfill biodegradable, in any landfill,” says Freya Dobson, one of two sisters that founded Hudson Cannabis, an organic and regenerative cannabis farm in Upstate New York.
They’re facing an industry with high demand that’s resulting in even higher product waste.
“At the forefront of what we do, we’re farmers and stewards of the land, so putting any of those goods into a container that is ultimately waste is tough to do,” said Dobson.
Like many, they’re weighing the options between aesthetic and eco-friendly.
“So this is, like I said, like a nice jar, right? Like from a kind of superficial standpoint, you might be like, whoa bamboo layers, this kind of frost glass. You have to think like, okay, well, yeah, I guess someone might reuse this jar, but is it even… it doesn’t even look like it’s recyclable,” said Dobson.
She was sitting at a picnic table on their farm with a cardboard box of packaging samples sent to them for their products. The same packaging options seen in dispensaries all over the country, but adding to the single-use plastic piles found in landfills.
“This is not going to be recyclable,” Dobson said. “This would also have to have a tamper seal on it, because this is open label packaging. On packaging, on packaging, just stack it up.”
That’s not good enough for the pair of sisters. Every decision they’ve made, whether it be in the growing, harvesting, packaging or processing step of their final product, is to help eliminate the planet’s growing plastic problem.
In 2021, the United States produced 40 million tons of plastic waste. The eco-conscious pair doesn’t want their business to contribute to it.
“In order to make a product that is deeply stigmatized in our country, suitable and palatable to the public, we have to sanitize and uphold levels of health and safety standards that are similar to that of a hospital,” said Melany Dobson, Freya’s sister and co-founder.
She was garbed, head-to-toe, in a plastic suit, gloves and hairnet, preventing contamination of their cannabis products.
In the state of New York, cannabinoid processing and packaging locations abide by strict requirements to create a sanitary workflow.
“Good manufacturing practices”, known as GMP, ensures the product isn’t contaminated by human contact — but it’s resulted in a lot of runs to the dumpster.
“We are GMP-certified, and part of that certification requires an extensive gowning procedure. That also means that when you step into this room, you are generating all of this waste. This is all single use and while there are ways we can improve this system; this is just our reality of our day to day,” said Melany Dobson.
Since New York’s recreational cannabis industry is in its infancy, it’s unknown exactly how much plastic waste it will generate. The industry is expected to eclipse $72 billion in projected sales across the country by 2030, according to the new frontier research firm.
Since companies they used to work with suspended their recycling collection, it’s a reality that Hudson Cannabis is trying to find a new solution for. Each “pro” coming with its own set of “cons”: rewashable PPE, a test for the power grid. Pickup service to recycle PPE, increase emissions from vehicles. Single-use PPE, full trash cans.
The pair have done their best to counter their waste with intentional business practices and while they haven’t found a solution for PPE yet, they’re ahead of the game on packaging.
“This is grown from mycelium, which is the root structures of mushrooms and uses hemp heard, which is the inner stock of the hemp of the hemp plant of the stock. And this is truly compostable. In six to eight weeks, it will break down fully,” said Freya Dobson.
This option was perfect for their CBD line and offers them a glimpse of promise for two sisters looking out for Mother Earth.
“There are people that are truly looking at solutions,” said Freya Dobson.