DigBoston reached out to all the dispensaries in Mass that were approved to sell cannabis before 2018, asking if they have a waste disposal plan in place. None responded to our inquiries about where they are taking their compostables.
Businesses in Mass that create organic waste may not have a choice of whether to compost. Under one scenario, Massachusetts by 2024 could be left with only one operating landfill, in Middleborough, with a yearly capacity of 60,000 tons.
Aware of the problem, the MassDEP has taken action to divert waste away from landfills. In 2014 it imposed the Commercial Food Material Disposal Ban. Businesses and institutions that dispose of one or more tons of food waste per week have to send all of it to a compost site. They haven’t faced opposition from businesses either; according to a 2014 article in the Boston Globe, some hospitals and grocery chains were already preparing to buy dehydrators and digesters to reduce their waste.
That kind of upfront investment might not be easy for businesses in the cash-based cannabis industry. Nonetheless, where is the waste going? Since dispensaries are staying quiet, let’s make some guesses.
Maybe making it ready for compost is too complicated. Because cannabis is a Schedule I Controlled Substance, pot producers have to grind up their plant waste and mix it 50/50 with non-cannabis waste to make it unusable. Only then can it be composted. But they have to do that regardless of where they take it, so isn’t it easier to let a compost site cut it up with their own waste?
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Maybe it’s tough for them to transport the cannabis to a compost site. If the compost company near them doesn’t pick up, that’s a cost for sure. But they’d have to do the same for a landfill, and landfill scarcity in Mass makes for some of the nation’s highest dumping fees. The fees at compost or biogas facilities are often lower, or even free because rotting plant waste is their bread and butter.
It could be the dispensaries are using unapproved pesticides and don’t want that in reusable compost. The negative consequences of this are so high that this is unlikely, but let’s say it happens. Whatever. Compost companies accept food waste that’s grown with pesticides all the time.
Perhaps stubborn community agreements make composting impossible. Half of Massachusetts towns have either banned or placed a moratorium on cannabis businesses in their borders and, of the towns that have accepted them, it is often more with caution than enthusiasm. This leaves the cannabis businesses in a weak bargaining position when working out agreements. Nature’s Remedy was recently granted a special permit to open a production and retail dispensary in Lakeville Industrial Park, but the community rejected the proposed outdoor composting facility because of worry about odor and security.
So maybe it is the bans and moratoriums. We spoke to eight compost companies and all said they’d be happy to take cannabis waste, but there is a significant crossover between the 190 commonwealth municipalities that have either placed a moratorium on or banned cannabis enterprises, and the locations of the Bay State’s 220 compost sites. They probably couldn’t take cannabis waste even if they wanted to.