Nonprofit wants to recycle Ohio's medical marijuana waste

TerraCycle Include USA
Ohio’s medical marijuana industry generates millions of dollars worth of waste that ends up in trash bins.   Now a nonprofit with links to Ohio’s medicinal cannabis industry is trying to change that through a recycling program for hard-to-recycle items like batteries.   Cannabis Can recently brought its idea to the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which regulates marijuana dispensaries.   The group hopes to partner with TerraCycle, a New Jersey company specializing in items that most municipal recycling programs can’t handle, such as batteries and refill cartridges for vaping pens.   But they face an uphill battle.   First, the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy needs to greenlight the plan.   If the board provides the go-ahead, Cannabis Can and TerraCycle’s program will eventually include the cartridges that hold liquefied marijuana. Those cartridges often have marijuana residue left over, and the board wants a plan that ensures that the residue is properly disposed of before a cartridge is recycled, Cannabis Can Director Lorien Hill-Purcell said.   “The board is very concerned about residuals, which we understand,” she said.   Ali Simon, public and policy affairs liaison for the medical board, said the regulatory body is waiting on a proposal from Cannabis Can and TerraCycle.   Cannabis Can, whose official title is the GHH Community Foundation, originally conceived of an awareness campaign to educate medical marijuana patients on how to recycle waste generated by the program. They discovered that municipal recycling programs can’t accept items like electronics.   “Then it really became clear to us that there isn't a path available for most of it,” Hill-Purcell said.   Other groups have considered recycling programs for the medical marijuana industry, but so far Cannabis Can is the first to put together a formal proposal, Simon said.   If the program is approved and TerraCycle signs on as a partner, Cannabis Can envisions a multi-stage program that will start with recycling batteries, and work its way to recycling items like vape oil cartridges that have left-over marijuana, Hill-Purcell said.   Vaping is one of the most popular ways to ingest medical marijuana. It involves e-cigarettes or vape pens that vaporize marijuana oil to be inhaled. The vape pens require batteries and refill cartridges.   It’s not clear how many batteries and cartridges are disposed of by medical marijuana patients. The state does not track sales of individual products such as batteries or chargers that do not contain marijuana, but roughly $46 million worth of products containing vape oil have been sold in Ohio since the first dispensary opened in January of 2019.   If the plan goes through, TerraCycle and Cannabis Can want to put recycling bins at all of Ohio’s marijuana dispensaries. The state currently licenses 52 dispensaries.   TerraCycle Vice President of Communications Lauren Taylor said the company should be able to recycle everything it is given.   Most plastic waste, and many items of e-waste like batteries, can be recycled, but the vast majority of the nation’s recycling programs shun those items.   “The value of the material is less than the cost to collect it and sort it and sell it,” Taylor said. “That is a challenge for the recycling industry.”   Many vape pens use lithium ion batteries which are a particularly difficult product to recycle, said Dr. Tarunjit Butalia, a research associate professor in the department of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering at Ohio State University.   TerraCycle offsets the cost by seeking sponsors, Taylor said. Bausch and Lomb, for example, sponsors the company’s contact lens recycling program.   Taylor declined to discuss the details of the marijuana recycling program, including whether or not it has a sponsor, saying only that the idea is in its very early stages.   pcooley@dispatch.com