Vape Pen Recycling A Guide for Manufacturers & Businesses

Vape Pen Recycling for Cannabis Brands

By Health and Safety, SustainabilityNo Comments

If your business manufactures, distributes, or sells vape products and batteries, you need a recycling plan. It’s an easy and effective way to protect your brand image and keep your customers coming back for more.

For the purposes of this article:

  • Vape (or vape pen) refers to a one-time-use, cannabis-oil-filled device with an attached Li-ion battery; it’s a battery and cartridge in one.
  • Battery refers to a multi-use, rechargeable Li-ion battery for use with vape pods or cartridges.
  • Cartridge (or cart) refers to a one-time-use, cannabis-oil-containing device with a built-in heating element; it usually measures 1 to 1.5 inches and connects to a multi-use battery (usually sold separately).

Cannabis Brands Need a Vape Recycling Plan

Branded vapes and batteries are being improperly discarded in record numbers, and this can present numerous problems for the manufacturer and the general public.

  • It contributes to the non-renewable waste problem
  • It can trigger negligence fines from local governments
  • It projects a negative brand image that can hurt the manufacturer’s bottom line

Consider this: Data from BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research suggests that the vape market is worth $2.5 billion per year. Assuming an average price of $40 per unit, that’s 62.5 million vapes, carts, and batteries going into dumpsters and landfills every year—or 5.2 million per month.

As cannabis industry professionals, we have a responsibility to provide a sustainable method of disposal for this new and growing waste stream. But as with all aspects of cannabis waste management, we have to do it in accordance with all of the complex laws and regulations.

Challenges With Developing a Vape Recycling Plan

Traditional recycling isn’t an option with cannabis vapes. Even though these devices are made largely with recyclable materials, they contain elements of both hazardous waste and cannabis waste.

The electronic batteries must be discarded at an authorized hazardous waste disposal site, and the vapes themselves must be tracked, traced, and rendered according to the law. That’s because anything with even trace amounts of cannabis oil residue is legally considered cannabis waste.

We’ve spoken to a number of manufacturers and business owners, and they all express the same common frustrations: Even if they try to collect used vapes and batteries for recycling, they can’t overcome the logistical challenges. For instance:

  • Hazardous waste and cannabis waste have different recycling requirements—but a vape falls into both categories.
  • There’s simply no outlet for recycling thousands of discarded batteries, even if the batteries haven’t touched cannabis. Most of these batteries are cased in non-recyclable plastic, and there’s little incentive to strip them of their recyclable parts.
  • There’s no place to send bulk product that has expired or failed testing.

Manufacturers and retailers shouldn’t have to navigate the ever-growing complexities of vape recycling. That’s why we set out to establish a simple recycling program that any business can get on board with.

How to Implement a Vape Recycling Plan

The first step toward implementing a vape pen recycling plan is to partner with a cannabis waste management provider that specializes in vape recycling. GAIACA is an industry leader in this respect.

  • We provide retailers with branded collection boxes where customers can discard their old vapes, carts, and batteries.
  • We provide retailers with 7-gallon locking chests for their collected materials, as required by the Bureau of Cannabis Control. The chests are only accessible by employees and the waste management provider.
  • We arrange for monthly or bimonthly pickups. We render the waste on-site per state regulations and then transport everything to our facility where it’s processed, packaged, and recycled.
  • We deactivate all batteries using a liquid nitrogen dip. Batteries are broken down and powderized via hammer mill, and the resulting materials are either reused (as plastics or metals, depending on the composition) or sold as abrasives for high-precision manufacturing.
  • If you manufacture or distribute vape products, we can come to your facility to collect and destroy all bulk product on-site. All expired and failed vape products are removed and recycled.
  • We’re also establishing a mail-back program that will allow consumers to mail their used batteries to an appropriate facility for recycling. Provided envelopes will be labeled for universal waste shipping.

Once you have your recycling partner, all that’s left is to incentivize your customers to drop off their used vape products. You can do this by offering discounts (such as 10% off) on replacement products or issuing points that can be used toward other purchases. This is an excellent way to encourage customer loyalty while reducing your carbon footprint and remaining compliant with local and state regulations.

The vape market is projected to grow by nearly 25% per year through 2027, so the time to implement a recycling plan is now. Don’t get left behind.

What Does Unusable and Unrecognizable Mean When Discarding Cannabis Waste

What Does “Unusable and Unrecognizable” Mean When Discarding Cannabis Waste?

By Experience, Health and Safety, RegulationNo Comments

Commercial cannabis operations must adhere to strict disposal guidelines. Rather than simply tossing unused and unsold cannabis in the garbage, they must render the waste “unusable and unrecognizable” and track its disposal pound-for-pound.

The general rule of thumb is that anything that contains THC or comes into contact with THC must be ground up and mixed with an aggregate material until it is “unusable and unrecognizable.” This is to prevent any THC-containing material from being accessed by the wrong people—like kids and pets. It’s also intended to keep THC out of our soil and water, the environmental effects of which we still don’t even know.

But when we talk about cannabis waste requirements, what does “unusable and unrecognizable” actually mean?

What Makes Cannabis Unusable and Unrecognizable?

Unfortunately, there is no standard or universally accepted definition of “unusable and unrecognizable.” The requirements may vary from one district to the next, and the language of the law is usually vague.

For example, cannabis waste in California is overseen by three separate organizations, including the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC). The Bureau doesn’t provide any strict guidance to waste generators, but it does mandate that waste is rendered unusable and unrecognizable before leaving the premises and being transported to a landfill. The bureau judges compliance on a case-by-case basis.

According to the BCC Code Of Regulations, Title 16, Division 42:

“To be rendered as cannabis waste for proper disposal, including disposal as defined under Public Resources Code section 40192, cannabis goods shall first be destroyed on the licensed premises. This includes, at a minimum, removing or separating the cannabis goods from any packaging or container and rendering it unrecognizable and unusable.”

That’s the full extent of the guidance.

How Is Cannabis Typically Rendered Unusable and Unrecognizable?

Because there is no clearly defined guideline, we cannot provide any advice that would satisfy a universal legal standard. However, cannabis waste is often ground up and mixed with aggregates. We might look to Colorado as an example of how to get the job done. Whereas some states keep the language vague, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment defines the process more clearly:

“This must be accomplished by grinding and incorporating the marijuana waste with any of the non-consumable, solid wastes listed below and the resulting mixture must be at least 50 percent non-marijuana waste. Such wastes include: Paper waste, plastic waste, cardboard waste, food waste, grease or other compostable oil waste, bokashi or other compost activators and soil.”

Though California no longer imposes the “50% non-marijuana waste” rule, it’s still used as a standard by some organizations as part of the rendering process.

Are All Cannabis Businesses Required to Render Their Waste Unusable and Unrecognizable?

It’s very important to speak with your local licensing agency about the specific requirements, as the rules vary depending on the location, business type, and licensing board.

In California, for example:

  • Businesses overseen by the BCC and the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch (MCSB) (a division of the California Department of Public Health) are required to render their waste prior to removal.
    • These businesses include dispensaries, manufacturers, testing labs, and microbusinesses.
  • Businesses governed by CalCannabis are not required to render their waste.
    • These businesses include growers, processors, and nurseries.

CalCannabis may adopt stricter guidelines in time, but this is where we stand as of 2020.

How to Render Cannabis Waste

You have two options for rendering cannabis: You can do it yourself or hire a cannabis waste management company. If you choose to do it yourself, always get the rendering on film. You’ll want the footage if you’re ever audited by your licensing agency. At the very least, you’ll need to remove all products from their packaging, grind them down as much as possible, and mix them with other solid and liquid waste.

We always recommend working with a licensed cannabis waste disposal company because there are many important parts of the disposal process that can’t be overlooked:

  • Cannabis waste must be separated from hazardous and universal waste
  • All waste must be weighed both on-site and at the final destination
  • All waste must be rendered unusable and unrecognizable and filmed for confirmation
  • All waste must be recorded according to the state’s track-and-trace system
  • Proper disposal must be confirmed by a third party

Failure to comply can result in hefty fines, and you may even lose your business license. It’s not worth the risk.

When you work with a knowledgeable professional, you’re better equipped to ensure compliance throughout every stage of the process. Professionals possess the trucks, the grinding tools, and the documentation to get the job done correctly, and they take on much of the liability so you don’t have to worry as much about minor oversights.

They’ll worry about the whole “unusable and unrecognizable” requirement, and you can focus on running your business.

What the Wipe Rule Means for Your Cannabis Business During COVID-19

What the Wipe Rule Means for Your Cannabis Business During COVID-19

By Health and SafetyNo Comments

If you operate a dispensary or other cannabis business, you already know that the rules for waste disposal can be complicated. But COVID-19 is shaking things up even more. Those disinfectant wipes that you use to wipe down your surfaces may have their own strict disposal requirements—and you may be in violation. It all depends on whether your business is protected by the EPA’s Solvent-Contaminated Wipes Rule (or Wipe Rule). Read More

two professionals in hazmat suits

How GAIACA Is Adjusting Operations During COVID-19

By Health and Safety, PressNo Comments

Though California is beginning to relax its stay-at-home orders, the COVID-19 pandemic remains an ever-present concern. As such, only “essential businesses” are permitted to operate without restriction at this time. The cannabis industry is considered an essential business (healthcare), as is service/sanitation. GAIACA fulfills both essential business descriptions, as we have clientele that rely on our service to allow their businesses to continue operating safely and effectively. Read More

Hazardous Waste Manifest Certification Training October 17, 2019

By Blog Report, Events/Conferences, Health and Safety, RegulationNo Comments

Thank You to everyone who attended our last successful Hazardous Waste Manifest Certification Training. 26 GAIACA customers attended the Hazardous Waste Manifest Certification Training on July 31, 2019, in Sacramento, CA.

Attendees left the class with a better understanding of how to properly manage and ship the hazardous waste that they generate from manufacturing and laboratory processes.

The training class goal was to meet the regulatory requirements by the DTSC (Department of Toxics Substances Control) and DOT (Department of Transportation) for anyone signing a Hazardous Waste Manifest. If you missed the event now is your chance to join us for the next certification training. Event space is limited to 30 seats so act quickly to reserve your ticket for the next event listed below.


Next Training Session:

When: Oct 17, 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM

Where: Ontario Airport Hotel & Conference Center 700 N. Haven Ave, Ontario, California 91764. MAP

Cost: $295 Per Attendee

Register:  Sign up below or call GAIACA directly (833) 225-4242


Reserve Tickets



GAIACA at NCIA San Jose 2019

By Events/ConferencesNo Comments

We were thrilled to attend NCIA 2019 at the San Jose Convention Center – “The nation’s most influential, award-winning cannabis conference & trade show, hosted by the industry’s only national trade association,returns to San Jose to celebrate six years of bringing together the industry’s best and brightest minds.” 

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See you at NCIA San Jose 2019!

By Events/ConferencesNo Comments

Come see the GAIACA family at NCIA’s Cannabiz Business Summit & Expo at booth #1421

on Monday July 22 – Wednesday 24 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

Join us at the expo to engage with industry’s best and brightest!

Take our quiz to see how compliant your location is and find out how GAIACA can assist your location with your cannabis waste needs!

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It’s Official, We Are Now Green Business Certified!

By Featured, Industry Updates, Press, SustainabilityNo Comments

This is what our business stands for. The service we provide is a responsible answer to a growing waste problem, especially in such a niche market such as cannabis-related waste product. We aim to teach our clients about proper disposal of a wide range of waste product to promote responsible processes that promote sustainability. What better way is there than to lead by example?

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