By Emily Ledger
Plastic waste is an issue on everyone’s lips right now. With horrifying images of oceans swarming with carrier-bag jellyfish; beaches covered in plastic bottles instead of shells, and turtles growing around can rings, companies are slowly increasing their plastic-usage awareness. But what about the CBD industry?
As a young industry, yet to receive clear regulatory guidelines, and battling licensing and advertising hurdles, movers and shakers in the CBD industry have a lot to deal with. So, when starting out in such an uncertain market, how easy is it to meet the environmentally-friendly ideals that more of us are now calling for?
Being derived from Hemp, CBD could be a competitor for the most environmentally-friendly wellness ingredient in the world. Hemp is more effective than any other crop or forestry at absorbing CO2. It also has myriad benefits for soil and local wildlife, as well as being a sustainable building material.
Despite it’s potential for environmental greatness, there is one common product on the CBD market which struggles against this ethos. Disposable vape pens.
When extracted from the Cannabis plant, isolates, broad or full-spectrum oils can be used in a huge selection of products – from tinctures and topicals to capsules and cosmetics. Many of these products may come in plastic packaging, however, none are as difficult to recycle as disposable pens.
Why are they a waste issue?
Vaping CBD increases the bio-availability of the substance, making it the most effective way to administer. Consumers can purchase both rechargeable, and disposable, vape pens. Although disposable pens are often more convenient (they don’t need refilling or recharging), they are creating a real waste problem for the CBD and Cannabis industries.
The issue with recycling vape pens is down to their many tiny components. Although many of them may look sleek and simple, inside the pen, it is a different story.
To allow the CBD liquid to be converted inside, the pen must contain a lithium-ion battery. Pens also contain various plastic and metal components, and even LEDs, triggered by the user’s draw. All of these components are extremely difficult to separate, and so, most vape pens are sidelined at recycling plants.
This means that the products are often sent directly to landfill. When this happens, their components can have further implications on the environment. That tiny battery that powers the pen can become a pretty big pollutant. As the pen sits in landfill, over time the chemicals will begin to leak. The leaked substances can find their way into water supplies, and the ocean.
As well as being difficult to separate, the residue left inside the pens is also a problem for recycling plants. Products that still have remnants of their former contents cannot be recycled. The leftover substances, from CBD extract to mayonnaise, can cause problems for the chemical process of recycling. This again leads to them being sidelined.
Aside from investing in a rechargeable vape pen, which can be pretty pricey, the options when it comes to preventing waste are limited.
In the UK, the current advice given to consumers is to dismantle, separate and clean each component before recycling. Sound advice, but it remains unlikely that consumers will adhere to this on an effective level.
However, in the states, there is an increasing number of schemes which aim to incentivise customers to recycle their pens. Companies, including Oregon-based Bobsled CBD, rewards customers for returning old and unwanted pens, with credit at their stores.
Stephen Sweeney, CEO of Bobsled CBD, said:
“Our recycling program takes care of the issue to dispose of each component safely while rewarding vapers who send in their old vape pens with a credit. We’re doing our part to protect the environment, and we hope that other companies in the CBD space will follow suit and put a stop to this issue.”
The incentive tactic has been used all over the world to promote recycling. Similar schemes in the UK include big cosmetics retailers, like LUSH and MAC, who offer perks to customers bringing back empty containers for recycling. Schemes for CBD products, like this, are yet to kick off in the UK.
Eco-firm Circonomy Solutions, a company known for its research in recycling technology, is currently looking into ways to make it easier to responsibly dispose of vape pens.
John Trujillo, of Circonomy Solutions, said:
“We are currently working through the process, through a circular economy, to turn waste into a resource, to minimize the environmental impact”
Until a more effective method is discovered, however, consumers have limited options. But, if we know anything, we know that incentives motivate. Incentive schemes may currently be the most effective way to encourage responsible disposal.
Hopefully, in the future, we will find more sustainable ways to produce vape pens, to ensure an environmentally-conscious, thriving CBD industry.