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Recreational Marijuana Is Now Legal In 11 States. How Does It Impact The Environment?

Ari Kelo

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For Illinois residents, the new decade also marked a new era — one of legal recreational marijuana.

As of January 1st at 6:00 am, marijuana became legal for recreational use in the State of Illinois, making it the 11th state to do so. The new law will bring Illinois much-needed revenue from its new marijuana industry and give over 116,000 (majority black and brown) convicted people a chance at getting pardoned.

But how does legalization affect the environment? To answer this question, we’ll dive into the overall environmental toll of marijuana, alongside how legalization can help.

The Environmental Impact of Marijuana

It may be obvious that any drug that releases smoke must be somewhat harmful to the environment. But marijuana (although incredibly beneficial for medical, social, and economic means) is probably worse for the environment than you think.

One major problem has to do with how it’s grown, a process that requires a lot of water and electricity.

The Steep Demand for Water

Water accounts for a lot of the environmental burden of marijuana production. That’s because a mature marijuana plant usually requires 23 liters of water per day. That’s 10 liters more than a wine grape plant’s daily water intake. This high demand for water becomes increasingly harmful for the environment in drier regions–like California, where 60 to 70% of the US’s weed is grown.

All this water adds up. In one growing season, just one square mile of outdoor marijuana plants will probably use up over one billion liters of water. That’s about six gallons of water per plant, per day for every day of the summer.

But even beyond water, the electric bill for marijuana production is staggering.

The Industry’s Energy Consumption

Let’s take a look at indoor growing, a process which more efficiently produces marijuana than outdoor agriculture. Although indoor growing can produce more marijuana per harvest and offers shortened grow times, the high-intensity light bulbs required to simulate sunlight need a lot of energy.

And to further power indoor harvesting, operations require humidifiers, heating, ventilation, and water storage.

This all makes an indoor marijuana operation eight times as energy-demanding as an average commercial building. When you look at all of these operations combined, they take up a whole lot of energy.

We’re talking 1% of the annual total energy consumption in the US. One whole percent.

That’s, well, a lot. That’s as much as the electricity used by every computer in every house or apartment in the US annually. All this amounts to 17 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Environmental Consequences of Growing Marijuana Outdoors

But growing marijuana outdoors also has its environmental consequences. As with every agricultural crop, farming marijuana can lead to the cutting down of trees, unnatural diversion of water streams, and the destabilization of local ecosystems. And when cannabis farms use pesticides and rat poison, they endanger animals.

Moving more operations into greenhouses could curb some of these problems, but will nonetheless still require a lot of energy.

To add on to these environmental taxes, the impacts of cannabis transportation and smoke pollution must also be considered.

How Marijuana Legalization Can Help

These consequences may seem dire, but it’s important to remember that marijuana is just like any other agricultural crop. And crops, by nature, tend to do more harm than good for the environment. But we need them nonetheless.

“Letting regulators and the public see [marijuana] as an agricultural crop is really key,” said Prof. Jake Brenner, who has researched the environmental impact of cannabis agriculture.

“We treat it like a medicine,” he continued. “We treat it like a drug, but we don’t treat it like what it is — which is a regular old agricultural crop with a fleet of environmental implications.”

So how we can make the cannabis crop as environmentally efficient as possible? The first step may be legalization — and therefore regulation.

Regulation, Regulation, Regulation

Let’s admit it. With legalization, the agricultural world of cannabis will become more and more regulated. And that’s for the better when we’re talking about environmental footprint.

Right now, illegal operations can rely on illegal methods of energy and water consumption. This has become a major issue, with some operations taking water directly from rivers and streams to nourish their plants.

This process harms wildlife, as it reduces oftentimes already-low water levels. Low water levels increase the temperature of the water, which can place additional stress on fish and amphibians. And illegally funneling water straight from streams can also dry out sections completely.

With legalization, more and more marijuana cultivators will need to rely on environmentally safer ways to water their plants, such as with collected rainwater.

Legalizing recreational marijuana also encourages more operations to move into greenhouses, since they won’t have to worry about being covert. And using greenhouses will minimize the consequences of outdoor marijuana harvesting.

Marijuana Legalization Empirically Leads to New Environmental Regulations

Luckily, legalization has already led to environmentally-friendly regulations for marijuana cultivation. For example, in 2015, the county government of Boulder, Colorado ordered that all cannabis growers must use 100% sustainable and renewable energy.

But although state-wide legalization, like in Illinois, is leading the way to a more eco-friendly marijuana industry, more must be done.

The next steps require further regulation and institutional encouragements for the marijuana industry to prioritize energy efficiency. This way, people can enjoy marijuana recreationally while not taking a toll on the environment.

Sustainability

Walmart Wants Companies And Consumers To Work Together To Reduce Plastic Pollution

Avery Maloto

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Walmart gets more involved in reducing plastic pollution.

You realize you want something, go online, and click buy. And just a few days later, your package arrives. The product is just what you’ve wanted for so long and now you finally have it. It’s magical. Now, all there’s left to do is to throw away the box, the plastic wrapper, and the rest of that cumbersome packaging. This common scenario answers to how the plastic pollution problem has gotten so bad.

And the data shows it too. According to the EPA, individuals produced over 80 million tons of container and packaging waste in 2017. Unfortunately, only 50.1% was recycled, the rest in landfills or combusted it for partial energy recovery.

There is no doubt, packaging has contributed to plastic pollution for decades. However, the increase in consumer goods production is only worsening the problem. 

To get a better idea of where the plastic pollution problem really lies and understand how companies should be acting to solve it, we chatted with Walmart Lead for Sustainable Packaging Ashley C. Hall. 

Walmart Senior Manager of Sustainability Ashley Hall shares how Walmart is getting more involved in reducing plastic pollution.
Walmart Senior Manager of Sustainability Ashley C. Hall shares how Walmart is getting more involved in reducing plastic pollution.

As she guides us through her work, we were able to dive deep into what level of involvement we need from both companies and consumers alike to truly move the needle when it comes to reducing plastic pollution.

Reducing Plastic Pollution Involves Companies Keeping A Product’s ‘End of Life’ In Mind

While it is not always possible to reduce the amount of packaging being used, there are other ways to adopt greener methods. Hall notes that there is a range for making packaging more sustainable. 

Contrary to what many believe, product sustainability exists far deeper than the choice of material being used. Hall showed us that there is much more to the picture. 

Product sustainability and reducing plastic pollution should start with the end in mind.
Product sustainability and reducing plastic pollution should start with the end in mind.

Through her experience, education is one of many areas that can spark change in the packaging space.

Specifically, she tells us: “it is important for those in the supply chain to know how to design with the end of life in mind.” 

With this school of thought, industries have the ability to lead their product manufacturing in a sustainable direction.

Everyone in the Industry Can Design For the ‘End of Life’

Manufacturers must also constantly assess the level of engagement between consumers and products. For instance, they should consider customers’ habits with product packaging. Although a majority of individuals want to recycle, some still improperly dispose of products. 

Unfortunately, some of the public is guilty of “wish cycling”, or the practice of tossing questionable items in the recycling bin in hopes that they will somehow be recycled. 

When customers are unsure whether something can be recycled, they often "wish cycle," which ends up being a negative.
When customers are unsure whether something can be recycled, they often “wish cycle,” which ends up being a negative.

When consumers do that, they can contaminate recycling loads.

By thoughtfully considering a product’s life-cycle from production to use, companies can design packaging that is recyclable, reusable, and easy for customers to dispose of. As a result, the amount of waste going into landfills can be significantly reduced.

Walmart’s America Recycles Program: Engaging With Customers To Reduce Plastic Pollution

Earlier this November, Walmart piloted the “Walmart Recycles Together” program in 110 of its stores. As a part of the initiative, the retail giant developed an in-store and digital campaign to engage its customers on the importance of recycling packaging. 

At this time, Walmart released an updated version of what it calls its “Recycling Playbook”. As a revamped copy of its playbook from February 2019, the retail giant provides information to suppliers and other companies looking to adopt sustainable packaging. 

Walmart published a lengthy PDF detailing recycling challenges and how consumers can get involved in tackling them.
Photo Credit: Walmart Recycling Playbook (Page 9)
Walmart published a lengthy PDF detailing recycling challenges and how consumers can get involved in tackling them.
Photo Credit: Walmart Recycling Playbook (Page 9)

In the 89-page document, the company covers a wide variety of information regarding packaging format. However, the retail giant primarily focuses on the most common packaging formats found in its stores.

For example, bags, films, bottles, and boxes. With data primarily pulled from North America, the playbook covers recyclability information based on existing infrastructures.

For instance, it explains how to create or read recycling labels, the comparison between different materials, and additive factors into a product that may present recycling challenges. 

Unsurprisingly, those who engaged with the book found immediate benefits. 

Many times, individuals found themselves simply saying, “Oh wow, I didn’t know that.” 

As the booklet is still published on Walmart’s website, it serves as a continuous reference for companies to educate themselves on how to design for recycling.

Offering In-Store Recycling Opportunities to Tackle Plastic Pollution

Walmart gets more involved in reducing plastic pollution.
Walmart is trying to make it simpler for customers to adopt greener habits, offering in-store recycling opportunities.

Walmart is also providing a handful of other opportunities for customers to adopt greener habits. Additional to its in-person educational events in November, Walmart continuously offers in-store recycling opportunities. 

Currently, its stores have drop boxes to dispose of more difficult-to-recycle materials, such as plastic bags and films. When customers attended the Walmart Recycles Together event, they were provided the education and outlets needed to avoid further contributing to wish cycling.

But Walmart doesn’t want its initiatives to end there; it hopes to get other companies involved in tackling the plastic pollution issue too.

Walmart’s Is Involving Other Companies

Coca-Cola is named the most polluting brand once more.
Among the companies Walmart is working closely with is Coca-Cola, recently named the #1 plastic polluter.

Walmart is currently working closely with a handful of other companies. Among these are Coca-Cola and Unilever, two companies that the retail giant worked with throughout the “Walmart Recycles Together” event. 

To forge a true partnership, Walmart is providing companies access to its Project Gigaton Platform.

In its database, Walmart encourages companies to set reduction goals and then track and report the progress of its own greenhouse gas emissions and usage of materials. 

With Walmart’s help, these brands are able to take the necessary steps to include reusable methods into their packaging. 

What’s Next For Walmart’s Recycling Initiative 

While Walmart continues to work on a variety of sustainability initiatives, its efforts seem to stretch far into the future.

Currently, Walmart’s private brands are striving for 100% of its food and consumable products to have the How2Recycle labels on-pack by 2022.

Walmart hopes to make the How2Recycle ubiquitous among its products.
Walmart hopes to make the How2Recycle ubiquitous among its products.
Photo Credit: iFixit

In addition, the retail giant plans to continue working through philanthropic outlets, like the Walmart Foundation, to continue its work in sustainability.

Everyone Has An Opportunity to Be a Part of the Solution

Fortunately, Hall told us: “Walmart believes everyone has an opportunity to be a part of the solution.” 

However, in order to contribute, we should all consider the three elementary aspects of recycling: 

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle.

It is essential for manufacturers to educate themselves on how to design for the end of a product’s life. Whether by choosing eco-friendly materials or reducing material usage, these choices can positively impact the packing space.

However, as we learned, it is equally important for retailers to provide the information necessary for consumers to properly dispose of products after use.  after use. 

Overall, the life-cycle of a product is only sustainable if we all play our parts. Walmart wants to make it happen; who else wants to join the fight against plastic pollution?

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Sustainability

Ecotourism: How Marketers Can Ethically Promote Travel Amid The Climate Crisis

Grit Daily

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2020 has definitely been off to a shaky start — literally. Since January 1st, there have been over 950 earthquakes in Puerto Rico alone. But in today’s new age of climate change, natural disasters like this are only becoming more and more common. So how can the tourism industry survive without harming our environment further? The answer may involve ecotourism — an opportunity for both marketers and destinations.

Your first thought may be to simply limit travel. But we often forget that many of the countries most affected by climate change-related disasters also rely on tourism to fund their recoveries.

Take a look at the Bahamas, where tourism brings in an annual $4.3 billion — 47.8 percent of their GDP. Without their tourism industry, the Bahamas’ complete recovery from Hurricane Dorian would be dramatically delayed.

And as Australia’s wildfires have merged into a 1.5 million acre “megafire,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison petitioned U.S. leaders to stimulate tourism by downgrading the urgency of their travel warnings.

Luckily, just a few days ago, the U.S. heeded Australia’s Prime Minister Morrison’s pleas to water down travel warnings to ‘Down Under,’ which has now been set to “normal.”

The bottom line? When climate-induced disasters strike, tourism can provide necessary economic boosts.

So as climate change continues to interact with tourism, marketers have an ethical responsibility to present tourism and travel brands within the context of our shifting climate reality.

But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this. After all, we’re talking about an $8.27 trillion global industry with a compound annual growth rate of 2.9 percent. So we’re going to need some creative solutions.

Choose Ecotourism: Don’t Encourage Tourism Where It’s Harmful

To start, marketers should be cautious about where they’re sending tourists. Promoting vacation packages to the Australian Open when Melbourne is shrouded in smoke puts your customers at risk.

Yet marketing other trips could put the destination itself at risk. Take Antarctica, where several new cruise lines have popped up in the last year to shuttle tourists to Antarctica — while it’s still there.

“Climate change is a chief reason for the increased interest in visiting Antarctica,” said cruise travel planner Mary Curry. “We truly don’t know if the region will ever be as magnificent as it is now.”

According to the New York Times, Antarctica cruise bookings have seen a 53 percent spike since 2015. But cruises aren’t helping the environmental situation at all.

A Norwegian cruise ship is about to hit shore in Antarctica, where the cruise industry has seen a 53% boost since 2015. Image from http://pix-now.com/main.php.

As these cruises flood into Antarctica, they bring environmental troubles with them. A day at sea produces just as much soot as a million cars. And cruises dump toxic raw sewage into the open sea. It’s safe to say that cruises are not doing Antarctica or its wildlife any favors.

Let’s not forget to add that at other port city destinations, cruises also squeeze local economies with bullying tactics that create dependency.

So while cruises are still growing in popularity, environmentally and socially conscious marketers should look towards ecotourism and consider driving tourism where it helps instead of hurts.

Instead of Antarctica, why not promote midwinter trips to the Bahamas, where tourist money is needed to rebuild?

Or instead of a cruise, why not promote the ferry from Fort Lauderdale?

Let’s Rethink the Carbon Footprint of Each Trip

Travel marketers are in a unique position of power. They can encourage travelers to think about their trips in terms of the carbon footprint attached. In doing so, they can normalize the practice of choosing travel plans with lower carbon emissions.

Take a trip from London to Western France. A study by Responsible Travel calculates these five days would produce 183.5 kg (404.5 lbs) of carbon dioxide. That’s broken down into food (77 kg), accommodation (26.5 kg), and transportation (102 kg per flight).

The flight for a trip like this, from London to Biarritz, takes about five hours, give or take an hour depending on your layover time in Paris.

That’s comparable to a flight from New York to LA. But going by train, you can get to Biarritz in a little over 7 hours. It costs a couple of hours more — or affords you some extra work and nap time if you present it that way.

It’s a small time difference, and it saves your customer a few bucks: $121 for a train compared with $150 for a flight.

But more importantly, the train ride cuts the carbon cost of transportation in half, bringing the total carbon footprint of the trip down by 51 kg (about 112 lbs) of CO2.

It may not seem like a lot, but that saves the same amount of carbon emissions that the average US citizen produces in a normal day.

Sell Ecotourism For All It’s Worth

Now, let’s be real about something. Climate change is a much, much bigger problem than can be solved by having travelers take trains instead of airplanes.

Nevertheless, knowing that efficient rail travel effectively halves the carbon cost of a trip means that responsible travel marketers should be putting everything they’ve got into pushing rail service over flights.

It’s an easy sell. Trains are roomier. You can get up and walk around. They won’t dump jet fuel on a schoolyard full of children like a Delta flight did this week in LA.

There’s a lot to like. And better marketing can encourage the development of cleaner, cheaper, more efficient rail systems. It’s these systemic changes that have the power to combat climate change.

Tourism has certainly contributed its share to the climate change emergencies we’re now facing, and as the climate bites back, we need to rethink what it means to market travel responsibly.

People aren’t going to stop traveling. But let’s look more towards ecotourism and make sure we’re being mindful of the environment with every trip.

Note: This article was originally posted at Grit Daily by Tina Mulqueen and edited and syndicated with permission.

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Sustainability

There’s Hope: Effective Forest Management Can Still Save Our Biodiversity If We Act Now

Brian D'Souza

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We know how critical forests are to life on Earth, yet, at large, our actions often don’t reflect that. Industries destroy forests constantly for their lumber and companies constantly clear land to make room for construction and agriculture.

It makes sense to treat trees as an easily renewable resource, but unfortunately, it is much harder to renew a true forest.

Unperturbed forests consist of a wide array of plants, trees, and animals of different species and ages, and if handled irresponsibly, this diverse balance can easily fall out of place.

Deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon and Australia have made it clear that we need better forest management. As we approach a critical tipping point, the time to act truly is now.

Here’s what you need to know about deforestation tipping points and how forest management can play a role in making sure we don’t lose our coveted biodiversity.

Forest Tipping Points

Several countries have strict laws governing how forests can be treated by industry. These laws set a strict precedent on how to replant and renew wildlife in order to maintain balance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

The Amazon Rainforest, in particular, has lost 24,000 square miles over the past year due to environmentally regressive policy. It is estimated that 20% of the original forest has been cleared since 1970, meaning it is approaching a “tipping point”.

Scientists believe that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.
Photo Credit: João Laet/AFP /Getty Images
Scientists believe that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.
Photo Credit: João Laet/AFP /Getty Images

A recent study from the University of Cincinnati explained the concept of forest tipping points.

A team of ecologists and geographers surveyed every square mile of the Earth digitally year by year in order to understand the progression of deforestation.

Researchers divided the world into small “blocks” of land and studied how the blocks changed individually over time. The complex study uncovered a simple truth.

They found that “deforestation occurs comparatively slowly … until about half of the forest is gone. Then the remaining forest disappears very quickly.”

This is because wildlife wants to be one uniform biome, and as ecosystems fragment, it becomes harder to continue. 

Wildfires and the Amazon Rainforest’s Tipping Point

Understanding how deforestation impacts the environment can allow us to set preventative measures.

Politicians must understand the concept of deforestation tipping points and integrate it into political action.

Scientists have concluded that the Amazon Rainforest is dangerously close to its tipping point.

Carlos Nobre of Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo and Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University recently proclaimed that: 

“Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” — Carlos Nobre And Thomas Lovejoy, Science Advances

Scholar Carlos Nobre emphasizes that the time to act is now.
Photo: Photo: Volvo Environment Prize 2016
Scholar Carlos Nobre emphasizes that the time to act is now.
Photo: Photo: Volvo Environment Prize 2016

In fact, the entire world is approaching its tipping point.

The same University of Cincinnati researchers discovered in an earlier study that “22 percent of the Earth’s habitable surface has been altered in measurable ways, primarily from forest to agriculture, between 1992 and 2015.”

Forests have shrunk, and so have the ice caps, and reefs. The rate of destruction of these delicate biomes has increased exponentially and will likely continue to do so.

The outlook does look bleak but it is certainly not hopeless.

The Importance of Forest Management

Australia gets flamed for its climate inaction
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with other political leaders, have been responsible for regressive environmental policy. Something needs to change.

The problem of environmental destruction needs to be responsibly and proactively managed. Environments in Alaska, Brazil, and Australia have deteriorated due to regressive politics.

On the other hand, reefs and forests have benefited greatly from technological advancement and active management.

Recently, researchers discovered that underwater speakers, among other measures, could counteract reef decay.

The solution is less clear for forests, but active forest management can certainly make a difference. 

It may seem rather unremarkable, but forest management is an incredibly effective tool.

Forest Management Could Have Been Beneficial to California and Australia

Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk carries a singed koala from the smoldering remnants of gum forests on Kangaroo Island on January 7.
We continue to see that better forest management would have been incredibly helpful in reducing the damages associated with fires in Australia and California.

The increased occurrence of wildfires in areas like California and Australia directly correlates with a decrease in preventative forest management.

Controlled burns generally prevent a larger wildfire from occurring, and Australia had drastically cut the number of controlled burns it performs prior to the wildfire crisis.

California suffers from a similar problem and has elected to pursue preventative measures, specifically forest thinning, in order to create more stable forests.

Currently, the privately-owned Forest Resilience Board can be contracted to manage healthy forests, and a government-wide forest management board could certainly help states like California and countries like Australia. 

We Need To Vote Leaders Out If They Won’t Help With Forest Management

Trump and Congress agree to sign the PACT Act into law.
Environmental issues should not be partisan. We need to work together.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Unfortunately, the management of biomes cannot make a significant difference as long as politicians have no interest in the solutions.

Citizens are becoming more and more aware of climate issues and this has been reflected in voter priorities.

As our environment reaches a tipping point, we need to elect politicians who want to make a difference.

Only through doing so can we must pass the laws and preventative management necessary to ensure the usage of the Earth’s resources is sustainable for the years to come.

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