Not currently, but some vape and oil manufacturers hope to make the industry significantly greener.
The dirty little secret of cannabis vaping is that cartridges and vape pens generally cannot be recycled so they accumulate in landfills. Although most components are made from recycled materials, their condition after use means they are not eligible for treatment by standard curbside services.
You see, vape pens and cartridges fall into that weird category like batteries, light bulbs and printer cartridges that classify waste collection services as ‘unacceptable recycling materials’. You can dispose of these items with a special trip to a hazardous waste facility, but most consumers won’t do that with their small collection of discarded vape devices.
Recycling advocates in the industry have been trying to create simple, vapor-friendly recycling programs for years. But they have been thwarted by regulations designed to keep cannabis safe and sustainable.
Bay Area Flower and Pen Supplier Bloom Farms used to provide vape pen recycling bins at various pharmacies. They can no longer, as state laws now categorize used vape oil containers as “contaminated” products that recycling services are not allowed to handle.
“Unfortunately, our e-waste disposal program has been suspended since California’s adult cannabis regulations went into effect in January,” said Ryan Scherer, spokesperson for Bloom Farms. SF Evergreen. “Because we are no longer allowed to directly handle returns of empty cartridges due to traces of cannabis, we are investigating other ways to properly dispose of these products.”
These “other ways” are not yet approved by the state, which means that many vape units are dumped in landfills.
When you finish a vape pen cartridge, it leaves a small amount of unconsumed oil that cannot be smoked no matter how hard you hit the pen. While these are negligible amounts, the cartridge is still subject to California cannabis waste regulations, which dictate that only specific, marijuana waste management companies can handle it.
The problem is even worse for vape pens, thanks to their non-recyclable electronic batteries. you can throw your vape in the trash, but it’s electronic waste that eventually doesn’t r . will berecycled.
“For whole pens and batteries, [recycling] is a no-go,” said Ryan Miller, director of operations at vape pen manufacturer OMG farms. “The lithium-ion battery requires these items to be taken directly to a hazardous waste collection point capable of handling these types of batteries.”
OMG Farms is making a disposable, all-in-one vape device called Rooster that is both a pen and a cartridge combined. Disposable vape pens are super popular for their convenience. But they also have the obvious Keurig coffee pod problem of not being recyclable, and their batteries and coils are pure electronic waste.
Miller has been on the soapbox for vaping recycling since The Rooster arrived on pharmacy shelves last year. Like Bloom Farms, OMG Farms offered collectible boxes at participating pottery stores and then refurbished discarded pens.
But that process was made illegal when new regulations came into effect early this year, preventing pharmacies from accepting their used empty containers.
“When the rules came out, they effectively prevented recycling,” Miller tells us.
Manufacturers are still loasking the California Bureau of Cannabis Control to re-legalize the collection box programs. The drop boxes are just a start, and vape pen companies know they need to provide incentives to get consumers and pharmacies to use them.
Under OMG Farms’ current proposal to the state, the penmaker would receive 25 cents off a pharmacy’s next order for each of their recycled pens, and 10 cents off competitors’ recycled pens. Customers who recycle will be credited with “one square foot of rainforest” saved through a donation from OMG Farms not-for-profit.
These incentives may sound quirky, but the cannabis industry should no longer offer “freebies” to entice consumer behavior. And if these recycling programs ever came to fruition, they would come with a whole lot more bureaucracy detailing obscure requirements for lockboxes, archiving and “chain of custody” issues.
But the genie is out of the bottle and vaping cannabis is here to stay. Some industrial forces are trying to be responsible for recycling practices, even as state regulators shoot down their ideas. Clear minds will probably prevail in the end, but the first year of legal cannabis vaping has been a huge waste.