Whether professional growers are producing dried buds or collecting resin for extraction, the steps of harvesting and processing create by-products and waste that must be disposed of according to all applicable regulations. Growers must be aware of and comply with the comprehensive regulatory scheme enacted by governing bodies to ensure that environmental protections and safety are in place.
Proper waste disposal regulations apply whether the grow operation is a caregiver for a few patients or a large-scale facility that supplies dispensaries. The legal responsibility is on growers to ensure proper disposal.
Waste disposal regulations have been slowly adopted and are being constantly updated through piecemeal legislation. This complex legal framework makes any generalizations about disposal requirements for growers difficult, because compliance must be followed on a federal, state and local level, and it varies widely.
Categories of waste
The types of waste that must be evaluated for proper disposal include:
Waste from solid plant material, whether a usable plant trim or flower or unusable plant material, such as stalks, roots, or soil
Waste solvents that were used in processing, such as a flammable solvent for the purpose of producing a concentrate
Any laboratory wastes that were used during processing for quality assurance testing
Any plant waste or extract that is not being used, because it does not meet quality assurance or has been contaminated in some way that would make it unusable in a safe and medical capacity
Liquids or water that could contaminate ground water due to pesticide use
It should also be noted that waste is limited not just to the by-product of growing. Many states also have regulations for how to properly destroy and dispose of any excess product that would place the grower in violation of the allowable limit.
Usable vs. unusable waste
Growers should look first to their state regulations that outline procedures for waste disposal. Many states’ disposal regulations distinguish between usable and unusable waste (which is defined in the law) and require that any usable waste, such as buds or trimmings, be rendered unusable before disposal.
For example, the state of Washington’s statute requires that usable waste be rendered unusable by grinding and incorporating it with other ground materials like food waste or yard waste to create a mixture of at least 50% non-cannabis waste, or delivering it to a permitted solid waste facility.
In addition to determining usable vs. unusable waste, many states require that growers determine whether it would be categorized as dangerous waste vs. non-dangerous waste and dispose of it accordingly to the states’ general statues on hazardous waste.
Another advisable practice for growers is to keep records that delineate what type of waste was disposed of, and how it was disposed of and where, including any facilities that the grower uses to dispose of the waste properly.
Because growing cannabis is still considered a federal crime under the Controlled Substances Act, it is important for growers to be aware that any trash placed outside a business is searchable by police without a warrant. This type of search is not considered within the subjective expectation of privacy of the Fourth Amendment.