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Down To The Last Stem: Making The Most Of Cannabis Plant Waste

Another successful harvest is complete. Your cannabis flower has been cured and trimmed, and the trim has been made into extract or edible — or better yet, both. There’s just one thing left to do: Clean up the plant mess. You’ve got a load of fan leaves, cannabis stalks, root balls and soil that need to be dealt with. While it’s tempting to simply break them down and throw them into large black garbage bags, you’d rather be more environmentally friendly, right? But how?

Going green is a practice most cannabis growers want to embrace with their gardens. However, despite the eco-friendly nature of the cannabis industry, growers in legal states are struggling to make the most of their cannabis plant waste, with much of it ending up in a landfill.

So, what can cannabis growers do? Obviously, the answer to this question depends on the type of grow they’re operating — small-scale medical grows won’t have the same options as large recreational grows. In either case, cannabis plant waste shouldn’t even be referred to as waste; there’s just so much that can be done with it.

Six Options For Reusing And Recycling Your Plant Waste

1. Compost

There are two options when it comes to composting cannabis plant waste. The first is on-site composting. If your grow is on a large enough property, you can create your own organic fertilizer there, but it will have to be far larger an area than a typical at-home composter in order to accommodate cannabis stalks, root balls and fan leaves. If you’re going to start your own compost, you can’t just throw your cannabis waste in a big pile outside and hope for the best; you’ll need a compost area with good drainage, the ability to completely cover it, proper circulation and diverse contents. In addition to the cannabis plant waste, you’ll need to add things like kitchen scraps for moisture. If your grow operation is located outside, an added bonus to making your own compost is that you can use it on your plants. Save the earth, save a few bucks.

If you can’t start your own compost pile, another option is to use an industrial compost facility. Disposing of your cannabis plant waste via an industrial compost facility is undoubtedly the most convenient option, as most facilities provide the bins for the waste and even pick it up. You can then buy compost from these facilities for a great price. The issue with industrial compost facilities is that many of them receive federal funding and thus have to follow federal regulations, which means they can’t take cannabis waste. Some industrial composting facilities are privately owned, however, and will gladly take your cannabis plant waste. Call around to your local composters to find out whether or not they’ll take your cannabis plant waste.

2. Edibles

Fan leaves and cannabis roots aren’t waste at all. In fact, they have medicinal value and should be used. Fan leaves are well known to be good for making teas and juicing. The fan leaves are good for you and are full of all kinds of nutrients.

Cannabis roots have a long history of medicinal use. According to a study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the journey of cannabis roots as a medicine began in Ancient Rome when Roman author Pliny the Elder claimed in his encyclopedia Natural Histories that cannabis root could treat stiff joints and a variety of other inflammation-related conditions.

“The current available data on the pharmacology of cannabis root components provide significant support to the historical and ethnobotanical claims of efficacy,” the study concludes.

The study also provides THC content for all parts of the plant. The roots contain no significant THC, the stems and fan leaves tested at less than 1 percent THC, and the flower being tested came in at 15.2 percent. So, while the roots may not contain significant THC, other chemical compounds in the plant matter may provide relief for a variety of inflammation-related ills.

Since fan leaves don’t contain much THC or CBD, they’re most useful for juicing and teas. Roots don’t contain any THC, so their medicinal properties can be accessed by making a simple cannabis root tea. You won’t want to juice cannabis roots, as the flavor and consistency aren’t appealing. If this is the route you choose to take, there’s plenty of info and recipes out there to help you get the most out of these healthful ingredients.

3. Topicals

Cannabis stems and fan leaves contain trace amounts of THC — .3 percent and .8 percent, respectively, according to the aforementioned study. This makes them a viable source for medicinal use in the form of topicals. Since most cannabis growers are left with vast amounts of fan leaves, extracting medicine from them by making an oil is an economic and ecologically friendly method.

Once you’ve made your cannabis oil (stick to coconut or olive oil for topicals; rubbing butter on your skin is problematic), there are many recipes online that use other herbs to complement cannabis, both with their fragrance and medicinal qualities. Herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage and thyme all offer medicinal and aromatic benefits that will make your topicals extra effective.

4. Mulch

One simple, effective and inexpensive way to repurpose cannabis stalks is to turn them into mulch. Put the cannabis stalks through a wood chipper and you’ll have mulch to put on your garden beds, or wherever else you may need mulch. It provides a great cover for the winter and will eventually break down and benefit the soil.

5. Fiber

Long before cannabis and hemp prohibition were even considered, our forefathers were using hemp stalks to create textiles including ropes, clothing and even sails for their ships. Hemp and marijuana are different plants, but their hardy stalks can be used in many of the same ways, one of which being fiber. Creating rope, in particular, is fairly simple and can be done with rough, inexpensive and easy-to-acquire farm equipment. The wonderful world of YouTube has several videos on how to process hemp stalks on a small scale. Cannabis stalks can be processed in the same way.

Check out the below YouTube clip courtesy of Mainely Acres about processing hemp on a small scale:https://www.youtube.com/embed/cqCpFXR1OdI?start=461&feature=oembed

If you’re looking to process cannabis stalks on a larger scale, you’ll want to partner with someone capable of processing stalks into a fiber. It may take some digging to find the right partner, but sustainable fiber producers are out there and eager to work with new materials, if regulations allow. If you’re in Colorado, you’re in luck. State laws were just updated to allow, and actually encourage, cannabis growers to turn their plant waste into industrial fibers.

Cannabis Recycling

Hempcrete is made from the center core of the cannabis stalk, also known as the hurds.

6. Hempcrete

An underappreciated way to utilize hemp and cannabis stalks is to turn them into hempcrete. Unlike fiber, which is made from the outer layer of a cannabis stalk, hempcrete is made from the center core of the cannabis stalk, also known as the hurds. To turn those hurds into hempcrete, chop them up and mix them with a lime-based binder and water. A common ratio is:

  • Four parts hurds
  • One part lime binder
  • One part water

Different ratios produce different strengths, depending on the application, so it’s good to play around with ratios until you find the right one for your project. The hempcrete mixture will need to be placed in a metal or wood structural frame to dry. The drying takes at least a month, so it will need to be done during a dry season.

So, before you bag up those remnants of your last grow for the landfill, consider one of these options to help make the most out of your cannabis plant waste. Not only will you possibly be able to profit, but you’ll also be helping to save the planet.

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