Sustainability is not a strong suit for the cannabis industry. While many companies strive for sustainable cannabis practices, regulatory and financial hurdles make it difficult to pull off. One company is trying to change this industry-wide problem one plastic METRC tag at a time.
Meet Dancing Dog Ranch, a small, women-owned cannabis farm in Mendocino County, California. They recently launched a petition to replace the plastic METRC tags used for seed-to-sale tracking with hemp or other compostable materials.
Dancing Dog Ranch operates on a 10,000 square foot canopy. To stay compliant with California’s track and trace regulations, their farm alone introduces 12,000 new pieces of plastic into the system each year. Larger farms have to follow the same compliance regulations, meaning they produce even more waste each year. It’s why Dancing Dog Ranch wants to introduce a hemp-based solution.
“Our main goal at the moment is to build awareness around how much additional waste this creates. When you talk about large-scale farms, growing acres of plants, it’s lost on most people that this one component of compliance generates so much waste,” Dancing Dog Ranch CEO Mackenzie Shults told us.
What are METRC tags?
METRC (Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance) is used in seed-to-sale tracking across 15 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam. The track-and-trace system is a standard in the cannabis industry, though exact use varies from state to state.
METRC tags are used to track cultivation. They use Radio Identification Tags (RFID), which rely on electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags across a variety of industries. The tags are one-time-use only, so each plant has a unique identifier for the system. These identifiers follow plants from the beginning of production to the final sale.
The problem with METRC tags
The folks at Dancing Dog Ranch want to replace these tags with hemp or compostable material to make a more sustainable cannabis industry.
“METRC is the top regulatory partner across the country and I don’t foresee that changing, thus we want to encourage a cleaner manufacturing process from their suppliers,” said Shults.
Mackenzie Shults told us that she has broached the issue with METRC. The response? The tags are recyclable. But Shults says this is only true in theory. Although some metal and plastic can be recycled, the tags would need to be broken apart and manually separated or placed in a custom recycling system. She said that putting the tags in the “plastic” recycling bin will not result in the tags actually being recycled.
A sustainable cannabis tag solution
The most significant design challenge for creating a compostable tag is the current need for RFID implantation in the tag. Additionally, the RFID chip itself is not biodegradable as it requires a mixture of metals and plastics.
“This issue with environmental concerns about RFID technology is not unique to cannabis, thus there is a demand and market to innovate,” Shults said.
Shults pointed out that she is not an engineer nor an authority on RFID technology. Still, she wants to see a change in the industry. Understanding that a meaningful solution will likely take time to come to fruition, she believes there is more METRC can be doing to reduce their environmental impact today. Her suggestion? Introducing a recycling component into their program.
While Dancing Dog Ranch and Trailblazers, a community of cannabis and psychedelic business leaders and researchers Shults is a part of, work to answer key questions, they’d like to see a hybrid solution. They eventually want to implement RFID technology into a compostable form, but until a solution is reached, they have their eyes on organized METRC tag recycling through TerraCycle or another recycling firm.
“If they [TerraCycle] can recycle dirty diapers, I am guessing METRC tags won’t be too difficult of a challenge while we arrive at a solution. It’s a great business opportunity for someone with this manufacturing/design skill set that cares about creating a technology that will go beyond cannabis.”