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Cannabusiness Sustainability

Environmental Sustainability in Cultivation: Part 1

By Carl Silverberg
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Core values often get wrapped into buzzwords such as sustainability, locally sourced and organic. In the first part of a series of four articles exploring greenhouses and the environment, we’re going to take a look at indoor vs. outdoor farming in terms of resource management.

Full disclosure; I love the fact that I can eat fresh blueberries in February when my bushes outside are just sticks. Is there a better way to do it than trucking the berries from the farm to a distribution plant to the airport, where they’re flown from the airport to a distribution center, to the grocery store and finally to my kitchen table? That’s a lot of trucking and a lot of energy being wasted for my $3.99 pint of blueberries.The largest generation in the history of the country is demanding more locally grown, sustainable and organic food. 

If those same blueberries were grown at a local greenhouse then trucked from the greenhouse directly to the grocery store, that would save diesel fuel and a lot of carbon emissions. People who can only afford to live near a highway, a port or an airport don’t need to ask a pulmonary specialist why their family has a higher rate of COPD than a family who lives on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs.

Fact: 55% of vegetables in the U.S. are grown under cover. The same energy saving principles apply to indoor cannabis and the reasons are consumer driven and producer driven. The largest generation in the history of the country is demanding more locally grown, sustainable and organic food. They want it for themselves and they want it for their kids.

The rapid proliferation of greenhouses over the past ten years is no coincidence. Millennials are forcing changes: organic fruit and vegetables now account for almost 15% of the produce market. A CNN poll last month revealed that 8 of 10 of registered Democrats listed climate change as a “very important” priority for presidential candidates. The issue is not party I.D.; the issue is that a large chunk of Americans are saying they’re worried about the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, such as increased flooding and wildfires.

So how does the consumer side tie into the cannabis industry? Consumers like doing business with companies who share their values. The hard part is balancing consumer values with investor values, which is why many indoor growers are turning to cultivation management platforms to help them satisfy both constituencies. They get the efficiency and they get to show their customers that they are good stewards of their environment. The goal is to catch things before it’s too late to save the plants. If you do that, you save the labor it costs to fix the problem, the labor and the expense of throwing away plants and you reduce pesticide and chemical usage. When that happens, your greenhouse makes more money and shows your customers you care about their values.

The indoor change is happening rapidly because people realize that technology is driving increased revenue while core consumer values are demanding less water waste, fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.Let’s add some more facts to the indoor-outdoor argument. According to an NCBI study of lettuce growing, “hydroponic lettuce production had an estimated water demand of 20 liters/kg, while conventional lettuce production had an estimated water demand of 250 liters/kg.”  Even if the ratio is only 10:1, that’s a huge impact on a precious resource.

Looking at the pesticide issue, people often forget about the direct impact on people who farm. “Rates in the agricultural industry are the highest of any industrial sector and pesticide-related skin conditions represent between 15 and 25% of pesticide illness reports,” a 2016 article in The Journal of Cogent Medicine states. Given the recent reports about the chemicals in Roundup, do we even need to continue the conversation and talk about the effects of fertilizer?

I’ll finish up with a quote from a former grower. “The estimates I saw were in the range of between 25%-40% of produce being lost with outdoor farming while most greenhouse growers operate with a 10% loss ratio.”

The indoor change is happening rapidly because people realize that technology is driving increased revenue while core consumer values are demanding less water waste, fewer pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Lastly, most Americans simply have a moral aversion to seeing farms throw away food when so many other people are lined up at food banks.

Tips for Finding the Perfect Cannabis Packaging Partner for Your Business

By Danielle Antos
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Whether your cannabis business is a start-up in its infancy, or established with a loyal customer following, the product packaging you use is essential to building and maintaining your brand. The packaging is the first thing a potential customer sees, and it creates that critical first impression. While the primary function is to contain, protect, and market your products, your packaging is a reflection of your company to the customer. In many ways, the package is the product. Partnering with a quality plastic packaging manufacturer for your cannabis products will increase your success.

Bottles made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) have become widely-accepted packaging options within the cannabis industry. There are many plastic bottle manufacturers, but how do you find the right one? In short, seek a manufacturer who makes quality products that are unlikely to present downstream problems for your company, provides services and options that align with things you feel are important, and wants to build a long-term relationship with you so both of your businesses grow faster through strategic partnership.

What to Look for in a Plastic Bottle Manufacturer

Excess Bottom Flash creates a poor printing surface.

As you search for a packaging partner for your cannabis business, here are a few key things to look for:

Bottles That Visually Support Your Brand

It’s essential to partner with a manufacturer who understands the importance of defect-free plastic bottles. Does everything about your packaging convey a sense of trust for your customers? Defects in plastic bottles typically occur during the manufacturing process.

Excessive Side Taper results in uneven, wrinkled labels.

For instance, excessive side taper on the bottles can result in uneven, wrinkled labels that are hard to read and make your product look unprofessional. If flashing on the bottle bottom is not removed, it creates a poor printing surface and results in a poor brand impression.

Partnering with a manufacturer who understands that plastic bottle defects diminish brand presence and who continually strives to remove defect-producing problems out of their manufacturing process is of utmost importance. This avoids many downstream quality problems and helps to keep the focus on growth and off of damage control.

Bottles That Minimize Risk and Waste

Product recalls or safety concerns can be a result of cloudy bottles or material trapped in the resin that makes the plastic packaging look dirty or contaminated. These situations can erode consumer confidence in your brand or expose the customer to risk.

Foreign material trapped in the resin results in reduced customer confidence.

Sub-par plastic bottles can lead to inefficiencies on your filling lines, lost production time, and product that cannot be sold. These situations lead to reduced profitability and negatively impact your bottom line. It’s never good when filled packaging or product has to be thrown away because problems are identified on the filling line.

Uneven Sealing Surface results in poor closure seal and increased risk of product spoilage or contamination.

Worse yet is when your product reaches the point of sale and the problems are identified at the dispensary or by a consumer. For example, over time, an improper seal between the plastic bottle and cap can cause flower to be excessively dry. In turn, when this flower is dispensed to the consumer it can lead to overfilling to make up for weight loss. And some consumers just don’t like their flower to be too dry, resulting in lost sales. Does the defective product get shipped back or trashed at the point of sale location? In either case, this results in the dilemma of wasted product that can’t be used and extra costs that eat into your profitability. 

Closures That Work With The Bottle

The closures for the bottles are also an important part of your cannabis packaging. Can your packaging partner manufacture and supply plastic closures that assure complete functionality to protect your product? Closures produced by the same manufacturer as the bottles ensures that the closure and bottle function correctly together. A one-stop-shop approach will save you time and money.

The cannabis industry is growing quickly and faces many complex regulatory challenges, including regulations for child-resistant packaging. Many states have their own unique cannabis packaging requirements which must be strictly adhered to. Are their bottle and closure pairings compliant with current regulations and those that are under legislation for the future? 

Customization for Your Brand

Can the cannabis packaging manufacturer customize their products to your exact design and specifications? Your product is unique, and your packaging should reflect that. Make sure your brand stands out with the exact image you want to project. There should be “depth” in your supplier: can they do more than just sell you packaging that already exists?

A Safe Resin Source

Another important aspect of safety is country of origin. Plastic bottles and closures manufactured overseas may have impurities in the resin or colorant that could leach or bleed into your products. They may not have documentation of origin or comply with FDA regulations. Your plastic packaging partner should be able to provide this documentation so you can rest assured that your bottles are manufactured under strict guidelines for the safety of your consumers and that your product won’t be affected.

Commitment to Sustainability

To many consumers, packaging made from recycled materials is important. Does your packaging supplier have a strong commitment to environmental sustainability? There is strong market support for carbon-friendly alternatives. Progressive plastic packaging manufacturers are actively working to provide alternatives to plastics made from fossil fuels and instead, using resins produced from renewable resources (i.e. sugarcane). By partnering with a supplier that provides alternative and recycled materials, you enhance your brand by appealing to a growing segment of environmentally concerned consumers.the best cannabis packaging suppliers understand that consistency in the manufacturing process is essential.

Scalable Growth

As your business grows, can your packaging partner grow with you? It’s important that they are able to keep up with the demand for your product and that their supply chain can match your manufacturing needs. As you add to your product line, are they capable of continuing to offer new and innovative packaging? A manufacturer that has a strong business model for growth will benefit you now and for the future.

A Real Cannabis Packaging Partner

Your cannabis business should develop a true partnership with your packaging supplier. They should invest in your success and care about your business. Businesses depend on one another for continued growth – look for a knowledgeable partner that is responsive, courteous and dependable now and for years to come. The best suppliers realize that there is more to a relationship than just the financial transaction of buying packaging.

Additionally, the best cannabis packaging suppliers understand that consistency in the manufacturing process is essential. Using virtually perfect bottles time after time not only reduces waste but helps build consumers’ trust in your brand. Consistency saves you three precious commodities – time, hassle and money.

Remember, a brand consists of more than just a logo and company name. It identifies who you are, what your company stands for and the integrity of your product. Quality cannabis packaging will reinforce your company standards and attract consumers to your product – consistently defining you as a quality provider with integrity in the marketplace. Improving your bottom line and meeting your company’s financial goals is at stake. Is your cannabis packaging partner going to help you grow?

5 Compliance Reporting and Notification Requirements That You May Not Know About

By Anne Conn
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New cannabis businesses must demonstrate proof of compliance to myriad laws and regulations as part of the initial license application process. And once a license is issued, it is easy to prioritize day-to-day business operations over ongoing compliance reporting requirements especially when sales are booming and compliance requirements are multi-layered, vague or obscured in non-cannabis specific programs and regulations.

But seemingly benign neglect of some minor reporting requirements can have major consequences to new and established businesses alike.

This article explores five compliance reporting requirements that cannabis businesses may not know about, and suggests ways to maintain a strong compliance posture across all regulatory agencies.

Pesticide Reporting

All licensed growers are required to prove compliance to state pesticide usage regulations. However, expectations on how and when to provide that proof of compliance vary greatly from state to state.  Furthermore, the responsibility of education and enforcement for pesticide usage in the cannabis industry often falls to non-cannabis specific agencies such as state departments of agriculture or environmental compliance.

For example in California, cultivators must report detailed monthly pesticide use reports via the State’s Agriculture Weights/Measures Division reporting portal, while Washington State regulators simply expect cultivators to keep records locally on site and provide them when requested.

With so many places to look, the best place to start your pesticide reporting requirement search is with your local agriculture department. They should be able to answer your questions and provide you with a list of resources to help you better understand how to comply with state pesticide usage and reporting regulations.

Hazardous Materials Reporting

Like pesticide use and reporting, hazardous waste handling and reporting requirements are complex and vary state to state. In fact, there may even be nuanced variations in handling requirements at the county level. The best approach to ensure compliance with a complicated set of regulations is to start by consulting your local county fire department. They will have the most specific set of rules for hazardous materials handling and reporting and can help you develop a site-specific compliance plan.

Two OSHA reporting requirements

Depending on how your cannabis business is classified, you may be required to keep injury and illness incident records and provide reports to the Occupational Health and Safety Organization (OSHA) for specific time periods.

Contact your business insurance provider’s loss prevention representative for more information about how your business is classified, which specific OSHA reporting requirements apply to you, and how to stay in compliance with applicable OSHA requirements.

Click here to learn more about how OSHA organizes reporting requirements by business type.

A note of caution here: OSHA non-compliance penalties can be steep and “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that” is not an acceptable defense when it comes to explaining any OSHA violations.

Labor Law Notification Requirements

Federal labor law requires that you notify employees of their rights. At a minimum, you post information regarding wages and hours, child labor, unemployment benefits, safety and health/workers’ compensation and discrimination in a conspicuous place where they are easily visible to all employees. Some states requires additional information be posted in a similar manner, so it’s important to be sure that those notices are posted along with the federal requirements.

This is a simple, yet easily overlooked, requirement for all businesses, regardless of industry. Ask your insurance provider for a copy of the notice to print and post right away (if you have not already) for a quick compliance win!

These five reporting and notification requirements may seem tedious, overly complicated and burdensome in the face of day-to-day business operations, but compliance to these requirements not only protects your business and employees, it also enhances the overall reputation of the industry. The good news is that regulatory agencies welcome a proactive approach and are happy to work with cannabis businesses to provide guidance and information for developing compliance plans.

California Manufacturing Regulations: What You Need To Know

By Aaron G. Biros
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In late November, California released their proposed emergency regulations for the cannabis industry, ahead of the full 2018 medical and adult use legalization for the state. We highlighted some of the key takeaways from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s regulations for the entire industry earlier. Now, we are going to take a look at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) cannabis manufacturing regulations.

According to the summary published by the CDPH, business can have an A-type license (for products sold on the adult use market) and an M-type license (products sold on the medical market). The four license types in extraction are as follows:

  • Type 7: Extraction using volatile solvents (butane, hexane, pentane)
  • Type 6: Extraction using a non-volatile solvent or mechanical method
    (food-grade butter, oil, water, ethanol, or carbon dioxide)
  • Type N: Infusions (using pre-extracted oils to create edibles, beverages,
  • capsules, vape cartridges, tinctures or topicals)
  • Type P: Packaging and labeling only

As we discussed in out initial breakdown of the overall rules, California’s dual licensing system means applicants must get local approval before getting a state license to operate.

The rules dictate a close-loop system certified by a California-licensed engineer when using carbon dioxide or a volatile solvent in extraction. They require 99% purity for hydrocarbon solvents. Local fire code officials must certify all extraction facilities.

In the realm of edibles, much like the rule that Colorado recently implemented, infused products cannot be shaped like a human, animal, insect, or fruit. No more than 10mg of THC per serving and 100mg of THC per package is allowed in infused products, with the exception of tinctures, capsules or topicals that are limited to 1,000 mg of THC for the adult use market and 2,000 mg in the medical market. This is a rule very similar to what we have seen Washington, Oregon and Colorado implement.

On a somewhat interesting note, no cannabis infused products can contain nicotine, caffeine or alcohol. California already has brewers and winemakers using cannabis in beer and wine, so it will be interesting to see how this rule might change, if at all.

CA Universal Symbol (JPG)

The rules for packaging and labeling are indicative of a major push for product safety, disclosure and differentiating cannabis products from other foods. Packaging must be opaque, cannot resemble other foods packaged, not attractive to children, tamper-evident, re-sealable if it has multiple servings and child-resistant. The label has to include nutrition facts, a full ingredient list and the universal symbol, demonstrating that it contains cannabis in it. “Statute requires that labels not be attractive to individuals under age 21 and include mandated warning statements and the amount of THC content,” reads the summary. Also, manufacturers cannot call their product a candy.

Foods that require refrigeration and any potentially hazardous food, like meat and seafood, cannot be used in cannabis product manufacturing. They do allow juice and dried meat and perishable ingredients like milk and eggs as long as the final product is up to standards. This will seemingly allow for baked goods to be sold, as long as they are packaged prior to distribution.

Perhaps the most interesting of the proposed rules are requiring written standard operating procedures (SOPs) and following good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Per the new rules, the state will require manufacturers to have written SOPs for waste disposal, inventory and quality control, transportation and security.

Donavan Bennett, co-founder and CEO of the Cannabis Quality Group

According to Donavan Bennett, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Cannabis Quality Group, California is taking a page from the manufacturing and life science industry by requiring SOPs. “The purpose of an SOP is straightforward: to ensure that essential job tasks are performed correctly, consistently, and in conformance with internally approved procedures,” says Bennett. “Without having robust SOPs, how can department managers ensure their employees are trained effectively? Or, how will these department managers know their harvest is consistently being grown? No matter the employee or location.” California requiring written SOPs can potentially help a large number of cannabis businesses improve their operations. “SOPs set the tempo and standard for your organization,” says Bennett. “Without effective training and continuous improvement of SOPs, operators are losing efficiency and their likelihood of having a recall is greater.”

Bennett also says GMPs, now required by the state, can help companies keep track of their sanitation and cleanliness overall. “GMPs address a wide range of production activities, including raw material, sanitation and cleanliness of the premises, and facility design,” says Bennett. “Auditing internal and supplier GMPs should be conducted to ensure any deficiencies are identified and addressed. The company is responsible for the whole process and products, even for the used and unused products which are produced by others.” Bennett recommends auditing your suppliers at least twice annually, checking their GMPs and quality of raw materials, such as cannabis flower or trim prior to extraction.

“These regulations are only the beginning,” says Bennett. “As the consumer becomes more educated on quality cannabis and as more states come online who derives a significant amount of their revenue from the manufacturing and/or life science industries (e.g. New Jersey), regulations like these will become the norm.” Bennett’s Cannabis Quality Group is a provider of cloud quality management software for the cannabis industry.

“Think about it this way: Anything you eat today or any medicine you should take today, is following set and stringent SOPs and GMPs to ensure you are safe and consuming the highest quality product. Why should the cannabis industry be any different?”

Soapbox

Human Error? No Problem

By Dr. Ginette M. Collazo
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If you are in the business of growing cannabis, you should be aware of the common reasons for production losses, how to address root causes and how to prevent future occurrences in a sustainable way. Human error is the number one root cause identified in investigations for defects in the cultivation business. Sadly, little is known about the nature of these errors, mainly because our quest for the truth ends where it should begin, once we know it was a human error or is “someone’s fault.”

Yes, human error usually explains the reason for the occurrence, but the reason for that error remains unexplained and consequently the corrective and preventive actions fail to address the underlying conditions for that failure. This, in turn, translates into ineffective action plans that result in creating non-value added activities, wasting resources and money as well as product.

Human error can occur when workers are in direct contact with the plant

So after investigating thousands of human error events and establishing systems to improve human reliability in manufacturing facilities, it became even clearer to me, the need to have good, human-engineered standard operating procedures (SOPs).

In the cannabis growing process, there are different types of mistakes that, when analyzed, all can be addressed in the same manner. For example, some common errors that we see are either overwatering or nutrient burn, which can occur when the plant is overfed. The same is true in the opposite scenario; underfeeding or under watering lead to problems as well. If your process is not automated, the reason for these failures was most likely human error. Now, why did the person make that mistake? Was there a procedure in place? Was the employee trained? Is there a specific process with steps, sub-steps, quantities and measures? Were tools available to be able to do the task correctly? There is so much that can be done about these questions if we had clear, well-written and simple, but specific instructions. The benefits greatly outweigh the effort required.

Also, besides providing step-by-step instructions to avoid commission errors (to perform incorrectly as opposed to omit some step), there are other types of errors that can be avoided with SOPs.

Decision making like detecting nutrient deficiencies can lead to human error.

Decision-making is another reason why we sometimes get different results than the ones expected. If during your process there are critical, knowledge-based decisions, workers need to be able to get all the information to detect as well as correct situations. Some decisions are, for example, when (detection) and how (steps) should I remove bud rot? Is there a critical step in the process (caution) to avoid other plants from becoming affected? Any information on the what, how, when, where and why reduces the likelihood of a decision error, later described as obvious.

When we face manufacturing challenges like nutrient deficiency in a particular stage, mold, fungus, gnats or even pollination of females, we want to do whatever we can to prevent it from happening again. So consider that from avoiding to detecting errors, procedures are a critical factor when improving human performance.

Here are some guidelines when writing procedures to prevent human error.

  1. Use them. Enforce the use of procedures at all times. As humans, we overestimate our abilities and tend to see procedures as an affront to our skills.
  2. Make sure it is a helpful procedure and users are involved in the process. People that participate in writing rules are more likely to follow them.
  3. Make sure they are available for their use.
  4. All critical activities should have a procedure.
  5. The procedure needs to be clear, have a good format, clear graphics, appropriate level of detail and specific presentation of limits.
  6. Make sure that facts, sequence and other requirements are correct and all possible conditions are considered e.g. “what if analysis”.

Human error won’t be eradicated unless we are able to really identify what is causing humans to err. If eliminating or “fixing” the actual individual eliminates or potentially reduces the probabilities of making that mistake again, then addressing the employee would be effective. But if there is a chance that the next in line will be able to make the same mistakes, consider evaluating human factors and not the human. Take a closer look and your process, system and ultimately your procedures.

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Biros' Blog

Sustainability of Cultivation in 2016, Part II

By Aaron G. Biros
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In the second part of this series, I speak with Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, to find out what particular solutions growers can use to increase efficiency. Last month, I introduced the challenge of growing cannabis more sustainably. To recap, I raised the issue of sustainability as an economic, social and environmental problem and referenced recent pesticide issues in Colorado and carbon footprint estimates of growing cannabis.

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The growers at Solstice put their plants under a trellis net to increase yield.

Alex Cooley is the vice president of Solstice, a cultivation and processing business based in Washington. Solstice is at the forefront of the industry for innovating in energy, water and raw materials efficiency. I sat down with Cooley to discuss exactly what you can do to grow cannabis sustainably.

“Switching to outdoors or greenhouse will always be more sustainable than indoor, but depending on the type of facility, energy efficiency and specifically lighting should be at top of mind,” says Cooley. “Just looking at your bottom line, it is cheaper to use energy efficient lighting sources such as plasma or LED lighting, which will reduce your need for air conditioning and your overall energy consumption.”

Looking into sustainable technologies is one of the quicker ways to improve your overall efficiency. “We are big believers in VRF [variable refrigerant flow] HVAC systems because it is one of the most energy efficient ways to cool a large space in the world,” adds Cooley. “Use a smart water filtration system that gets away from wasting water by catching condensate off AC and dehumidifiers, filtering and then reusing that water.”

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Indoor cultivator facilities use high powered lights that give off heat, requiring an efficient air cooling system like VRF HVAC.

Utilizing your waste streams is another relatively simple and cost effective practice to grow cannabis sustainably. “Our soil and biomass goes through a composting company, we recapture any of our waste fertilizer and runoff for reuse,” says Cooley. “We try to use post-consumer or fully recyclable packaging to reduce what would go into the waste streams.”

So some of the low hanging fruit to improve your bottom line and overall sustainability, according to Alex Cooley, include things like reusing materials, composting, increasing energy efficiency and saving water. These are some of the easily implementable standard operating procedures that directly address inefficiency in your operation.

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The tops of plants are beginning to flower in this Solstice indoor facility.

In the next part of this series, I will discuss Terra Tech’s approach to sustainable cultivation, which utilizes the “Dutch hydroponic greenhouse model” on a large scale growing produce such as thyme and basil, but are now taking their technologies and expertise to the cannabis industry. I will also discuss the benefits of using a third party certification, Clean Green Certified, to not only help grow cannabis more ecofriendly, but also market your final product as such. Stay tuned for more in Sustainability of Cultivation in 2016, Part III.