In all of the ongoing discussions and reviews over policy and regulations surrounding the fledgling cannabis industry in Monterey County and its municipalities, and during the heated debates over indoor grows or outdoor grows, no one including the policymakers and the growers themselves had mentioned garbage.
But for a trio of entrepreneurs, that looks like an opportunity.
Tucked within a nondescript industrial area packed with auto shops and produce distributors – in the city of Del Rey Oaks just outside of Monterey is GAIACA (pronounced guy-uh-ka), is a new cannabis garbage and recycling company.
GAIACA leases space from Russo’s Wholesale Produce. There’s an Everest of boxed vegetables and fruits that funnel into a 2,000 square-foot warehouse space packed with white bins filled with cannabis waste scraps and parts of the plant that remain after buds and oils are extracted.
The company launched a year ago as a cannabis waste consulting service with clients including the county’s hazmat and solid waste departments. Its three co-founders were prompted into entrepreneurship when they saw the chance to provide a relatively non-existent service for the fast-growing pot industry in California and beyond. A few months ago, GAIACA received its business license and expanded into waste management.
A partner saw applicants to the county and state and noticed waste management wasn’t in there,” said Garrett Rodewald, 32, a co-founder along with Domingo Rivera, 32, and Jonathan Lee, 29. “After seeing some of those numbers (permit applications), we all just sat down and said this (waste) is going to be a problem in the near future.”
The entrepreneurs also come with some experience in the cannabis industry.
Along with Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong, Rivera is a co-founder of CannabisClub.tv, which provides marketing and advertising for cannabis companies.
Rodewald is an environmental management and hazardous waste management consultant who had worked on projects for Monterey County.
They started talking with cannabis companies and growers, gauging their need for the service and found that many didn’t have the facility, equipment, and manpower to tackle the waste.
With the legalization of the sales and cultivation of medical marijuana in Monterey County and cities including Salinas, growers, and cannabis companies are fast ramping up.
A lot of companies are focused on manufacturing and not thinking about what they will do with waste, said Rodewald.
A gray area
Waste management falls into a gray area for many growers and cannabis companies.
They don’t know what to do with it (waste) they’ve been burning it, storing it and stockpiling it, said Rodewald, adding that one company had stored nearly 4,000 pounds of waste in its office.
The waste we are dealing with is not hazardous waste, but you can’t just throw it in the trash can, although many growers and companies do, said Rodewald. He added that the way the oil is extracted determines whether the waste is hazardous.
Cannabis waste in dumpsters can attract people to sift through the waste for scraps that might still be smokeable or sellable. While the waste still carries the distinct smell of pot, Rodewald said very little if any of it is of any value.
Tyler Tracy, a project manager for Grupo Flor, a Salinas-based investment company that works with cannabis companies and growers, said there are other challenges to cannabis waste disposal.
Marijuana is currently still considered a Schedule 1 drug, outlawed by the federal government. If the plant has gone through a butane oil extraction its considered hazardous waste.
It presents new risks in waste management because they are dealing with an organic product that is extremely flammable, Tracy said.
As the industry develops and matures Rodewald said, a waste management system will be a necessity and not an option. A draft resolution recently passed by CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing under the California Department of Food & Agriculture states that while cannabis waste isn’t considered hazardous waste, it must be disposed of by mixing it with at least 50 percent of other materials before being discarded.
How it works
GAIACA has been busy since it launched several months ago, Rodewald says.
The company provides a $1,500 monthly subscription-based pickup service. That includes a waste management plan, two 55 gallon drums, weekly pickup, and a certificate of waste compliance.
GAIACA processes around two to three tons a month of the finished product, which is topsoil donated to landscapers and community gardens. The soil is also donated to labs and universities including researchers at California State University, Monterey Bay who are studying the effects of using soil with cannabis waste for growing produce.
Here’s how it works: the company drops off and picks up the bins every week; the waste is ground up with industrial-sized farming machines and blended with ag waste, which often includes lettuce, spinach, cauliflower common produce from the Salinas Valley and even coffee skins from a local coffee shop Acme coffee.
Rodewald said the process of recycling the waste is more of an art than a science.
Meet Garrett Rodewald a co-founder of GAIACA, a waste management company based in Monterey County that focuses on disposing of cannabis.
Critics and naysayers
Not everyone sees the need for such a business especially since regulations for the industry haven’t even been established yet.
I think it’s a little excessive having to mix your waste with other things before you can throw it away seems a little overboard. In reality, these operators are not going to be throwing away the buds and valuable goods, said Joey Espinoza, deputy director of Monterey County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML. What they’re throwing away isn’t anything anybody would really be looking to get high from.
Espinoza said most cannabis companies are throwing their organic trash in the garbage like regular yard waste.
At one point, Espinoza himself even thought of starting a cannabis waste management company and bought domains including cannabis garbage and marijuana garbage, but was dissuaded when he spoke with Monterey County Waste Management.
They can already handle it, Espinoza said. I don’t think it’s the worst idea, but I know the normal garbage companies will pick it up. I think the easiest thing is to have a compost pile and then throw it away.
Still, the entrepreneurs at GAIACA appear to have tapped an unfulfilled niche, especially for cannabis companies and growers who want to support sustainable practices.
Rob Weakley, CEO of Altai Brands, said investing the money into proper disposal is the right thing to do.
It’s trying to be as green as possible, he said.
GAIACA’s co-founders are ambitious. They are looking to expand into Northern California in places like Sacramento to the Humboldt area and into Southern Californian cities such as San Diego and Los Angeles. They’re considering franchising GAIACA to gain greater reach across the country.
I think the demand will be high and will be spread out, Rodewald said.
Cannabis waste recycling shouldn’t be limited to making soil either, said Rodewald. He rattled off possibilities including hemp paper and hemp concrete. The opportunities, he said, are endless.
Report Courtesy: The Californian