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Where Will California's Marijuana Waste Go?

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The buds make it valuable. The green leaves and potent scent give it character.

But it's what's left behind that may be a growing problem for the California cannabis industry.

"What we have here is actually a public health hazard," said Eric Carlson, an activist pushing for better solutions for marijuana waste.

He says there is currently no standard for handling the byproduct.

"They are crunching it up and throwing it in any type of waste facility they can find around here," said Carlson pointing to a dumpster.

That can create some issues, says Carlson. Some of what is tossed contains pesticides and trace amounts of mind-altering chemicals that can make their way into the public waste stream.

Some rural growers use on-site composting methods. Others burn the waste. Still, some of the waste makes it to landfills.

Right now in places like Yolo County, its policy is to bury any and all cannabis they receive in places like a landfill.

"That's a catastrophe on our hands when we talk about our sustainable landfills," said Carlson.

Carlson says each cultivation site can generate roughly 100,000 pounds of waste a year. State estimates show roughly 10,000 new cultivators will come online after Jan. 1. That makes the cannabis scrap a potential 1 billion-pound problem.

"Green waste, organic waste, compostable waste is the largest segment of our waste stream already," said Mark Oldfield with CalRecycle.

He says cannabis will be a only a small fraction of the total waste collected in the state, but composting "green waste" facilities are already maxing out.

"We are going to need to build on that capacity," said Oldfield. "We are approaching full capacity now so that's something that will have to be looked at going forward."

"This does have the potential to be a pretty significant volume of material," said Hezekiah Allen with the Cannabis Growers Association.

The emergency regulations released on Thursday require cultivators to track and log how they dispose of waste. They have the option to drop it off at composting facilities, or landfills.

"I really hope that folks are thinking about more sustainable ways than landfill to deal with it," said Allen.

Allen says waste regulations need more detail, especially for dozens of urban growers in Sacramento.

"A real shortage of options for folks in the urban area. Where is the waste going to go? What does the waste stream look like? How is it staying secure and being managed sustainably?"

The emergency regulations were released on Thursday that outline how marijuana waste should be handled. State licenses will be issued beginning Jan. 1. Businesses must also have local licenses from the jurisdiction they plan to operate in.

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