Karhlyle Fletcher   |   April 23, 2020

Hidden Profits in Cannabis Waste

Turning cannabis industry waste into biodegradable plastics worth talking about.
A passionate Detroit local, Karhlyle works everyday to establish ethical access to information on the national and city level. Medical, as well as technical research, is a driving passion of his, but he is also a published fiction author,…

“Cannabis producers are required to destroy their plant waste,” Tarek Moharram, Founder and President of Moharram Ventures Inc. (MVI), told Cannabis Tech in an interview. “Most people don’t know this. Even to the extent that they do, they don’t realize how much plant waste is being created. When I say that for every kilo of cannabis flower that goes on the shelf, eight kilos of plant waste is created, people look at me like I’m from outer space. They say ‘well, it’s fine, it’s just a plant, so it’ll all just compost.’ Well, no. A lot of jurisdictions, and certainly Health Canada, mandate that the plant material is destroyed. The two prevailing means of doing that are either burning it or shredding it and mixing it up with kitty litter to send to landfill. That’s a massive problem for us. There’s a growing amount of plant waste that will end up in landfills with brand new kitty litter. That’s not an ideal situation, especially when the biomass has an application. We haven’t found all the points on the value chain yet for biomass. Indeed, the buds have value, but there’s more value in that plant material.” 

What is Biomass? Why Not Burn It?

The term biomass typically refers to non-food or non-consumable plant matter. However, this part of the plant is far from useless. Although consuming biomass is ineffective, processors transform this waste byproduct into essential materials such as ethanol, concrete, and, in the case of MVI’s aptly named Truly Green Plastic™, plastic. 

With their patent-pending technology in-hand, MVI is currently searching for partners who are passionate about sustainability with whom to bring their revolutionary Truly Green Plastic™  to market. During the past two years, their team of innovative microbiologists and chemical engineers discovered that it was possible to convert cellulose into a fully-biodegradable film through a bacteria process and that the resulting film has superior qualities to traditional plastic comparators. Since this process utilizes bacteria that are commonly found in nature, the film will break down naturally when exposed to the environment. Due to this decomposition, costly and energy-hungry processing facilities are not needed. This film is also an excellent ingredient for other types of plastic mixes that already exist today. Now, MVI just needs to find, or build, a facility to produce it at scale. 

This film is a building block for MVI’s final Truly Green Plastic™ mixture. While the film derived by the cannabis biomass has excellent qualities, such as noticeably lower melting temperature and a slightly higher destruction temperature, their final Truly Green Plastic™ is also expected to have customizable biodegradation timing based on the relative proportions of its components.  Depending on these variables, it can be tailored to begin breaking down in a matter of hours or lasting nearly an entire year.

A Conversation With Tarek Moharram 

“We started on this path because we believed we were doing something novel and something that other folks haven’t done before,” Moharram said. “Our plan, in getting started with this, was to file for and successfully claim the intellectual property on an international level. So far, so good - we’re getting good indications around the novelty of our work and our findings. There are some pretty large petrochemical companies and polymer companies out there - if we weren’t able to successfully protect our intellectual property and our innovations,  it would be quite easy for a large player in the space to come and say ‘Cool idea, thanks very much! We’ll get started on monetizing that right away’.” 

But what does MVI even stand to gain through Truly Green Plastic? What can it be used for in the economy? What would make others interested in copying the idea? Well, the application is only as limited as plastic is present in our consumer societies. 

“Truly Green Plastic is going to come out as a film,” Moharram explained. “Initially, we were looking at it for the pet services marketplace, like dog waste bags. It didn’t make sense to me – though a scientific layperson – for us to have dog waste bags that wouldn’t break down based on contact with the contents. You’d have organic matter sitting in landfills for hundreds of years. It seemed like an overengineered material, and I thought we could do better to tailor plastic to suit more single-use, short working lifespan practical applications.” 

Yet this philosophy extends far beyond a single industry.

“Since we began our work, we learned Truly Green Plastic could be applied to so many more things than dog waste bags,” Moharram said. “We can do grocery bags and drug delivery devices, we can do food packaging or pallet wraps. There are tons of applications that we can direct our technology towards. That’s why we partnered with an academic institution here called Lambton College in Ontario, Canada, so we could figure out what the exact mechanical properties of the final product will be and how it can be practically applied. We also received a fair amount of funding from the Government of Canada.”  

The Future Marches On 

No matter how much money one makes today, it will mean nothing if there is no tomorrow in which to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. The world currently produces 700 tons of plastic per minute, which is shocking and unsustainable. As developing countries continue to begin refusing to act as dumps for developed countries, solutions will arise from necessity. One of those will be, in line with the philosophy of Elon Musk on un-priced externalities, a tax on plastic use. As countries begin to charge companies for the environmental costs of their manufacturing practices, all of a sudden shirt that was $5 will now be required to be sold for upwards of $100. Once these effects take place, companies will scramble to finance environmentally sustainable practices. 

“There are a lot of jurisdictions simply banning single-use plastics,” Moharram said. “No longer allowed. Additionally, a lot of plastic films can’t be recycled. It may be cheaper to make fossil fuel-based polymers, but it won’t be when there are significant fines on the producers who are doing this, to the extent they’re legally allowed to do this at all.” 

Big oil is already investing in renewable energy. Analysts know the tide is turning. MVI has placed two bets:

  • an ample supply of cannabis biomass will be available for the foreseeable future. As cannabis demand only rises through North America (and elsewhere in the world), MVI sits very comfortably with that bet.
  • And demand will shift towards biodegradable packaging. With the looming threat of plastic taxes, this reality will likely manifest. 

Currently, MVI is searching for collaborators on both the supply and manufacturing sides. They have the technology; they simply need to source biomass from an ecologically-conscious cannabis player and to produce their plastic by working with a company in the polymers space. With their team assembled, MVI plans to set the standard for sustainable cannabis operations and prove that working with environmentally friendly material can also be economically sound. 

 

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