What are the environmental impacts of growing cannabis crops for medicinal use?
Power and water use, as well as the impact of pesticides being used on non-medicinal cannabis crops, will have an impact on environments across the globe.
What do cannabis business operators need to consider in terms of sustainable greenhouse designs, cannabis extraction processes (cleanrooms and labs), and engineering innovations for reducing the environmental impact of cannabis cultivation and supply?
3 Key Environmental Impacts Cannabis Cultivation Operators need to Consider
The cannabis industry is growing rapidly. Questions are now being asked about the environmental impact of cannabis farming and newly licensed production facilities. Cannabis cultivation facility designs, climate controls, processing systems, and testing laboratories must be engineered for compliance and efficiency in order to generate quality products using innovative technologies that keep costs — a well as the environmental impacts of growing cannabis — under control.
Additionally, cannabis grown and processed for medicinal purposes must comply with stringent TGA and FDA quality monitoring, batch tracing, proper labeling and related safety guidelines [TGA example: Therapeutic Goods Order No. 93 (Standard for Medicinal Cannabis)].
There’s no doubt that industrial-scale cultivation of cannabis requires extensive natural resources as well as manufactured ones. There are 3 key areas to consider in terms of the environmental effects of cannabis cultivation around the world.
Who can help you start your medicinal cannabis business?
PharmOut’s cannabis consultants can assist you with licensing applications, medicinal marijuana processing and regulatory requirements for GMP / EU GMP (PIC/S).
Our pharmaceutical facility design architects, cleanroom validation, testing and processing engineers are experts in assisting cultivators and medicinal cannabis manufacturers with environmentally-minded designs for efficiency and GMP compliance. Contact PharmOut with your enquiry or view the medicinal cannabis cultivation support pages and 2020 cannabis conferences.
Indoor vs Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation | Environmental Impacts
- While some regions are well-suited for growing crops outdoors; medicinal cannabis will also be grown and processed in indoor facilities or specially-designed cannabis greenhouses
- This enables greater control over climate factors that impact plants; although medicinal cannabis is subjected to much stricter growing methods than cannabis not used for pharmaceutical products
Indoor grow facilities for cannabis allow for:
- climate control (improving consistency and yield)
- plant disease management (quarantining new plants)
- increased security for personnel and product stock
- cloning and pest control
- good manufacturing processes (GMP) for extraction
Intensive cultivation demands are typically required, however, to meet production aims. The environmental concern is that cannabis cultivation greenhouses, for the most part, are power-hungry and water-thirsty.
Cannabis crops are heavy users of power. Sun-drenched countries, such as South Africa, have certain climate-based advantages for cannabis crops. But countries like Canada, with harsh winters, require more intensive power requirements for growing crops throughout the year.
Reducing power requirements as well as water usage — for both indoor and outdoor crops — is a key concern for cannabis producers competing in the global sector.
Sustainability | Cost Considerations and Consumer Mindsets
The global market for medicinal cannabis production is growing exponentially but is still evolving. Changes, including production engineering and process innovations, are to be expected. Manufacturers must embrace new technology (including Pharma 4.0) as pressures increase on suppliers.
- The medicinal cannabis supply sector is also becoming increasingly competitive as more countries legalise medical use of marijuana (cannabis) and enter the sector.
- Natural resource management and power cost management will continue to be crucial factors for competing in this sector.
- Engineering innovations will be in high demand to reduce power loads and water usage, as well as for waste management, to help protect the environment
Greenhouse cultivation processes require heavy power loads and water usage rates.
Cannabis crops consume heavy power loads for lighting, temperature, monitoring and hydration controls; to increase yield. There’s no doubt that power use, water use, and the impact of pesticides and run-off will have an impact on environments across the globe.
Global market factors: Sustainability engineering innovations help reduce operational costs for medicinal cannabis cultivation.
- Strict adherence to good manufacturing practices, stringent record-keeping requirements and extra security will apply.
- So, too, will fully transparent manufacturing processes from initial sources to finished herbal medicine products.
- Frequent audits are expected in relation to Government licensing criteria and GMP, given the nature of the plant and drug.
- Consumers will also place stronger demands on producers for sustainable cultivation practices.
In addition to operational costs, environmental impacts must be taken into account at the earliest stages of greenhouse designs and process engineering. These two factors — operational costs and environmental impacts — can go hand in hand through innovations in technology and greenhouse engineering, rather than trading off one for the other.
Licensed producers will seek innovative ways to reduce costs while minimising environmental harms related to cannabis cultivation, harvesting and extraction processes.
- Sustainable crop management technologies will be in demand across the globe
- Water usage, lighting, power demands and the effects of nutrients and pesticides on the environment will be closely examined by consumer groups and environmental protection agencies
Innovative greenhouse-designs, high-tech climate control systems, more efficient power management systems (including solar power and battery back ups) and waste management innovations will spawn entire new industries to help support suppliers.
Overall, industrial-scale cannabis businesses need to consider the environmental impact of cannabis crops, including:
- greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and power use
- sustainable land use
- soil contamination and pesticide risks (although medicinal cannabis must be pesticide-free, some recreational products and illegal crops are very likely to be grown using pesticides and unapproved growth facilitator agents)
- water resource management (run-off risks)
- packaging materials (sterility, safety, security and packaging waste)
KPIs include reducing the environmental impact of cannabis farming as well as capping costs.
Considerations extend to the manufacturing processes for cannabinoid products of varying formulations.
Environmentally-minded pharmaceutical packaging decisions must also be made. Resource use, environmental impacts and public safety must all be taken into account. Designing tamper-proof, safe packaging for cannabis medication delivery, that is also eco-friendly, requires new innovations in materials use, physics and engineering.
The hunt is on for sustainable-minded eco-friendly packaging that reduces waste while protecting the medications from tampering and deterioration.
Environmental impact of raw materials consumption in relation to cannabis drug-packaging choices – what producers need to know.
- Manufacturing choices, such as medicine packaging, have a direct impact on the environment and public health outcomes.
- Increasing concerns have been expressed in relation to the dangers of plastic packaging for pharmaceuticals and chemical reactivity with the drug’s potency and shelf-life.
- Additional dangers emerge from poor pharmaceutical labeling decisions; concerns are also growing in relation to carcinogenic packaging materials and pharmaceutical plastic waste
Environmental Impact of Cannabis Crops and Industry KPIs (GCPF)
Environmental Protection KPI’s for Medicinal Cannabis Licence Holders and Producers
- The GCP’s Recommended Cannabis Framework (RCP) includes KPIs aimed at reducing the impact of cannabis businesses on the environment
- Listed KPIs for the sector cover recreational and medicinal cannabis producers (for domestic and overseas markets)
- Goals include minimising the impacts of propagation, canopy management, harvesting, waste processing, laboratory extraction and quality testing, medicinal product exportation, packaging and public access/pharmaceutical product consumption
- Watch the Global Cannabis Partnership Framework (GCPF)’s video
Cannabis and the Environment: 3 Key Factors Cannabis Producers
There are 3 key areas of potentially damaging environmental outcomes related to worldwide cannabis production. These relate to emissions, resource use and waste management.
Let’s further explore these 3 Environmental Impact Areas in terms of Medicinal Cannabis Cultivation, Manufacturing and Exportation businesses.
#1: Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) guidelines and responsibilities
The GCP’s Responsible Cannabis Framework (RCF) lists reducing GHG as part of their environmental impact KPIs for cannabis businesses.
Producers are accountable for ensuring reductions in GHG emissions related to cannabis cultivation, harvesting, active ingredient extraction and further processing.
Industry Reporting Requirements
Environmental impact assessments and EPA reporting requirements anticipated by our expert Cannabis Business Consultants and Engineers include:
- Ensuring your GHC management systems accurately measure, record and minimize the volume and intensity of your emissions
- Data integrity and record-keeping audits, including high-tech data security and frequent testing
- Continuous improvements processes (Pharma 4.0) and implementation of new technologies
Experts in Pharma 4.0 / GMP/ validation and engineering innovations will be in demand for facility designs, clean room engineering and other methods for conserving resources required to grow crops and produce new medicines.
Innovative engineering will be necessary for ensuring sustainability and safety when it comes to assessing and reducing the environmental impact of cannabis crop growing around the world.
Areas ripe for innovation and high-tech engineering include cannabis greenhouse designs, cultivation methods, crop management including lighting and temperature control systems, power requirements including the latest battery storage technologies and solar power, clean-room processing and precision testing and extraction techniques.
#2: Water management, recycled water and water-conserving irrigation systems as well as other waste management
- Water-resource management, irrigation, drainage, and water-waste disposal is also incredibly important for cannabis licence holders.
- This is a crucial area for minimising the detrimental environmental impacts and sustainability risks from large-scale medicinal cannabis cultivation and production.
Reduced consumption of water resources and innovative water-waste management can be achieved through advanced engineering innovations and facility designs.
These include water recycling strategies, validated water safety investigations and monitoring of the potential run-off/cannabis waste repercussions to public health, plant health, other crops and wildlife.
There is also a requirement for safety-minded pest-control methods and soil preparation techniques. These can minimise harms to employees and Q.A. testing personnel, soil, waterways, plants, people and the environment.
Sustainable, safe cultivation practices while maintaining high yields will be one of the primary R&D areas for growers and producers.” Trevor Schoerie, Director, PharmOut
PharmOut’s engineers and cannabis licence consultants have expertise in innovative engineering designs and Pharm 4.0 innovation and compliance. They offer turn-key designs and cultivation-related engineering and SOPs, employee training, templates and GMP consultancy as well as assistance with cannabis licencing requirements in different countries as well as in Australia (ODC/TGA).
#3: Plastic and medicinal packaging materials
The 3rd key environmental concern for licenced cannabis providers requires balancing tamper-proof packaging with the environmental impact and health impacts of consumables and plastic waste.
In particular, there are growing concerns about the impact of plastic packaging and pharmaceutical waste materials on our oceans, lakes, streams, wildlife, insects, pets and people.
Innovation packaging and delivering new cannabis medicines, including during exportation, means delicately ensuring that packaging is:
- tested for product-stability (material/drug reactivity)
- requires minimal resources (consumables)
- ensures an adequate shelf-life
Consumer demand for less use of plastics and reduced raw materials is definitely going to impact the global cannabis production sector.
A growing consumer-led movement to reduce environmental harms from plastic-waste means the world is ripe for innovations in medication packaging as well as cannabis crop cultivation and extraction.
Engineering in the cultivation sector will explore new ways to minimise consumption of raw materials, synthetics including plastics, and related environmental harms.
What this means to Cannabis Producers Worldwide
Large-scale producers of medicinal cannabis, with a social conscience, should lead the way in terms of R&D into reducing detrimental environmental impacts.
The 3 key areas are outlined above (GHG emissions, water management and packaging waste).
But these will be balanced with the strict requirements involved with cultivation and export licences, permits, GMP and GACP.
The industry growth is exciting, but not without its challenges.
For expert assistance with your start-up cannabis business or expansion into new countries due to recent legislation changes (newly legalised cannabis amendments), contact our team at PharmOut.
For a brief overview of KPI’s and social repercussion policies around cannabis, read
We also offer Medicinal Cannabis Training Courses, GMP/GACP training and Medicinal Cannabis Conferences in various locations including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Journal Publications | Environmental impact of cannabis crops and medical marijuana farming
Cannabis (Cannabis sativa or C. indica) agriculture and the environment: a systematic, spatially-explicit survey and potential impacts.
Authors: Van Butsic, Jacob C Brenner.
Accessed online on 21 June 2019.