THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY
OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 27, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 6 p.m. to examine and report on issues relating to agriculture and forestry generally (topic: the composting of cannabis residues and potential impacts on the environment).
Senator Diane F. Griffin (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. I’m Senator Diane Griffin and I’m from Prince Edward Island.
And the deputy chair?
Senator Maltais: Senator Ghislain Maltais from Quebec.
Senator Doyle: Senator Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Oh: Senator Victor Oh from Ontario.
Senator Gagné: I am Raymonde Gagné from Manitoba.
Senator Eaton: Senator Nicole Eaton from Ontario.
Senator R. Black: Senator Robert Black from Ontario.
The Chair: What we’re doing this evening is what we call a spot study. In other words, it’s one meeting on a particular subject, after which point we will determine where we may go with it further.
This time it’s on the composting of cannabis residues and the potential impacts on the environment.
For our first panel, we welcome from the Compost Council of Canada, Mr. Brian King and Susan Antler. From Micron Waste Technologies Inc., we have Mr. Alfred Wong, President, and Mr. Cam Battley, member of the board.
We’ll let the Compost Council of Canada go first. You have all had your instructions from the clerk about the length of time, I’m sure.
So the floor is yours.
Susan Antler, Executive Director, Compost Council of Canada: Thank you. Basically, cannabis is a plant and just like any other living thing it can be composted to create compost, the essential ingredient for life in our soils, organic matter for healthy soils that are productive and sustainable. Composting is a natural process through which organic material is converted into a soil-like product or humus. The process works with the help of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, combined with air, moisture, time and temperature.
The Compost Council of Canada is a national non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of organics recycling and the return of compost and other soil-related products back to our earth for continued sustainability and productivity.
We have been in existence since 1991 with 27 years of hard working advocacy and infrastructure development to enable Canadians to be able to recycle their organic residuals, whether at home, work or play.
Although under the BNA Act waste management has been a provincial and territorial responsibility, our national organization has existed and been built through the fact that the science is a science. Whether we operate in the Yukon or Newfoundland and Labrador, the science is a science.
To compost properly, whether in your backyard, in an on-site system or through centralized collection and processing, the fundamentals are the same. It is all about the recipe, combining carbon-rich materials such as leaves, yard trimmings and plant residuals, whether end-of-the-season tomato plants or roots and trimmings from cannabis, with nitrogen-rich materials such as food waste, animal manure and biosolids, and managing the degradation process with monitors of time, temperature and moisture to create a naturally renewable product, compost, that our soil in its life hungers for and for which we have a responsibility to feed.
Our council represents membership from both the public and private sector, academics, government regulators, environmental advocates and those in agriculture, landscaping, erosion control, silviculture, mining and value-added manufacturing, all who utilize compost for its many benefits of soil health, plant productivity, water conservation and quality, pesticide reduction and support our local economies.
Members in our council have already successfully processed residuals of medical marijuana and have installed on site systems to enable cannabis producers to process their plant in soil residuals through composting on site. Of the approximately 33 million tonnes of waste that are produced by Canadians every year, about 40 to 50 per cent of these materials are organic residuals that may be composted or digested anaerobically.
Right now, organics are the primary material by volume that is recycled in Canada. It is the only material that can be recycled either individually by every Canadian or through at-home composting, on site, or in a larger process format requiring delivering to a centralized location.
Composting and anaerobic digestion are local recycling solutions. Studies done in New Brunswick show that for every one dollar invested in the establishment of composting or anaerobic digestion, that dollar spins four times before it leaves the province.
While we are number one, we have only tapped about 30 per cent of our potential. Our facilities are regulated both by provincial and territorial ministries of environment, as well as having to conform to the requirements of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CFIA, for our finished products of compost and digesting, regardless of feed stock or inputs.
Our processing facilities are strictly regulated in terms of air, water, odour, inputs and final products produced and used; controlled in terms of documentation, including extensive recordkeeping, such as what types of materials are received, quantity and sort; process monitoring, such as temperature, CN and pH ratio, oxygen levels, maturity; as well as the end-product testing. Transportation, including collection, is regulated as well and strictly enforced.
We are one of the most regulated industries in waste management and beyond.
In our opinion — and perhaps you might consider us to be biased — if you like to eat, breathe good air, drink clean water, support local economies and contribute to a positive environmental legacy and sustainability, organics recycling through composting and anaerobic digestion is the best solution for any residual organic materials, including roots and trimmings from no longer production-useful cannabis or marijuana.
We believe that composting should be the preferred method to process cannabis residuals. Landfills, without proper gas collection systems, emit greenhouse gases, with organic residuals being responsible for 90 per cent of the emissions. Incineration requires energy usage and does not allow for any use of those end products that will also have to be landfilled.
For every one tonne of organic residuals that can be processed through our systems, we can save one tonne of emissions. We have studies to show that also the return of the organic matter back to our soils can help sequester carbon. Perhaps one third of our current climate change problem could be mitigated through the return of compost and organic matter back to our soils. One third.
From a waste management perspective, there are three locations where cannabis waste could be created; during production, at point of sale and at the household, where cannabis could also be grown.
By cannabis waste, we essentially mean any of the plant materials that have no beneficial uses beyond being a useful feedstock for the production of compost.
In certain states in the U.S., in their regulations, the allowable method to render marijuana plant waste unusable is by grinding and incorporating the marijuana plant waste with other ground materials so the resulting mixture is at least 50 per cent non-marijuana waste by volume.
We really believe that cannabis residuals should only be mixed with other organic materials such as food waste and/or leaf and yard materials, not inorganic materials, which would render it useless.
The composting process reaches high temperatures to allow for pathogen kill as well as weed seed kill. The process is heterogenous and non-distinguishable, with the initial preparation including grinding and mixing into a co-mingled material, which basically means you can’t retrieve the original inputs.
The whole process creates a new agricultural soil product, compost, which is distinct in its appearance, texture and value from its original inputs of waste. Compost that is high quality, multiuse organic material, which is the matter of life in our planet.
We seek your support to champion the processing of all organic material, including cannabis residuals, into compost. It is an all purpose goal and good. It should be seen as an essential service.
As a national organization, the Compost Council of Canada has, through our members, the depth of multiple processing systems and technologies, involvement of academia and testing laboratories for the research that now must start to support the cannabis industry, to enhance productivity, its processes and life cycle management.
We sincerely look forward to working with you. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation.
We will now hear from Mr. Wong.
Alfred Wong, President, Micron Waste Technologies Inc.: Thank you, Madam Chair, and members of the committee.
My name is Alfred Wong and I’m the President of Micron Waste Technologies, a Vancouver-based clean tech company. With me today is Cam Battley, Chief Corporate Officer at Aurora Cannabis, one of the leading Canadian licensed producers.
Since late 2017, Micron Waste and Aurora have been working together to develop a clean waste management solution specific to the cannabis industry. The timing of our study today on the environmental issues of residues from composting cannabis waste comes at a key moment. With cannabis legalization around the corner, there are aspects of the handling of cannabis waste that will have a direct impact on environment and nearby residents affected by it.
It is my hope that our testimony today can demonstrate to the committee that there are unique made-in-Canada solutions that are both effective and good for the environment.
I will begin by explaining what Micron Waste Technologies is and isn’t. The Micron Waste solution is an anaerobic digestion process that breaks down organic waste within 24 to 48 hours and treats the resulting effluent to meet municipal sewage bylaw standards. It is not composting.
The Micron Waste solution is composed of two parts, both of which sit directly on site at the cannabis cultivator. The first part of the solution uses a mechanical and biological process to breakdown the organic waste. This results in a slurry that contains THC, CBD and other cannabis compounds.
The second part of our solution is a 20-foot shipping container that houses our entire wastewater treatment plant. Through our process, cannabis compounds and organic matter are removed from the waste stream.
Just to give you an example, I brought three bottles from our facility in Vancouver and each bottle of water shows a successful step in the waste treatment system.
The first bottle of water is the typical slurry that is generated from an organic digestion process on food waste. The BOD levels, the biochemical oxygen demand, which is a measurement of the biological matter in the effluent, is over 7,000 milligrams per litre.
Just to put that into perspective, the Metro Vancouver sewage bylaw standards for BOD is 500 milligrams per litre, so this is more than 12 times that limit.
This is number 3. This is the effluent from the last step of our process, which now treats the BOD level down to 460 milligrams per litre, 10 per cent below the limit.
This is what we’re capable of. This clean gray water can now be reused into Aurora’s agriculture process or discharged safely.
Micron solves three main environmental issues in the handling of cannabis waste.
First, landfills are filling up fast around the world. Forecasts from GMP Securities suggest that by 2020, there will be over 1,200 metric tonnes of cannabis produced in Canada. The cannabis waste generated is estimated to be over 6,000 metric tonnes. Micron Solutions sits directly on site and removes the need for landfilling.
Second, garbage trucks on the road generate greenhouse gas emissions. Canada has committed to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. Micron’s solution removes the need for hauling to landfills or centralized waste treatment facilities.
Third, cannabis cultivation is a very water-intensive process. A fresh cannabis plant is 80 per cent water by weight. One fifth of the fresh water resources in the world is in Canada and it is important that we do what we can to protect this natural resource. Micron’s solution can recycle the water back into the agriculture process, making it a complete closed loop system.
Micron’s concept has been proven out over the last 12 months and we are on track to install an operational unit at Aurora’s facility by June this year.
I’ll now turn the microphone over to Cam Battley, who will share his thoughts from the perspective the cannabis cultivator.
Cam Battley, Member of the Board, Micron Waste Technologies Inc.: Senators, my name is Cam Battley. I am a member of the board of directors of Micron Waste and I’m also the Chief Corporate Officer of Aurora Cannabis.
Now, we are the second-largest cannabis company in the world by revenues and by market capitalization. We have two facilities in Alberta and two facilities in Quebec. We are building another facility in Denmark as we expand our medical cannabis production around the world.
Our interest in Micron came because we are a young company in a young industry and most of our employees are millenials and there is a high degree of practical idealism within our company. We figure as we are in the process of inventing a new industry that we can do some good things too. So there is a great environmental sensibility within Aurora.
Now, one of the challenges with cannabis, a regulated substance — today it’s medical cannabis only. Obviously we’re looking forward to the future where very soon it will be a consumer product as well. It will always be highly regulated. It must be dealt with in certain ways.
Currently there is no prescribed method under our medical cannabis system in this country for the disposal of cannabis waste. There are a lot of options. It can be shredded and mixed with other products to adulterate it. One of the most common methods of disposing of cannabis waste right now is known as -- I kid you not -- the kitty litter method. That means taking cannabis waste, literally mixing it with cat litter and water so that it becomes unusable. That in fact is the only method that has ever been prescribed in Canadian regulations and that’s under an older regulatory system, the MMAR, which preceded the current system under which we operate.
It can also be incinerated if you can find an approved incinerator. It can be composted as well, if that compost is segregated. That means it has to be fenced off, not available to the public, or it’s taken to a secure location for composting.
The Micron solution that attracted us very much gelled with the way we like to do business at Aurora, which is new technology, improved superior technology. The Micron approach was attractive to us because it can manage cannabis waste in a secure method that is consistent with Canadian regulations under Health Canada, on site, and it can do so rapidly. The digestion process takes approximately 24 hours, so you can take the cannabis waste, drop it into the digester and 24 hours later you have the third bottle of water on the end that is ready to be — it can be used in any municipality, according to any municipality’s effluent standards.
So we like the technology. As a company, Aurora is invested in every element and every segment of the cannabis sector, from the design of high technology facilities to the production of cannabis and hemp, to the extraction of the cannabinoids or active pharmaceutical ingredients from cannabis itself, all the way through to the disposal of cannabis waste.
We think that this is an ideal green solution and evidence of something kind of special.
In all of the debate with respect to cannabis legalization, one of the elements that perhaps has been a little bit overlooked is the degree of Canadian innovation that is being unleashed here. There will be a net environmental benefit to consumer legalization. Let me explain why.
Currently cannabis use is widespread in Canada. Nobody is inventing cannabis use today. According to Statistics Canada, more than 5 million Canadians use cannabis regularly. What that means is that there is an existing supply chain that is not administered. It’s not regulated. There is no oversight and we don’t know how it works. We don’t know how cannabis is being produced. In some cases, probably just fine. In other cases, probably in means and ways that we wouldn’t approve of, with the use of banned pesticides and so on. We don’t know what happens to the waste currently because there is no regulation.
One of the potential benefits of legalizing the consumer use of cannabis is that there will finally be oversight of the production of cannabis and the disposal of cannabis.
This is one element of something very exciting that is happening today. That is the massive investment by Canadian companies, by Canadian investors, into this new industry. It’s creating jobs from coast to coast, and not just directly in the cannabis sector itself, but also in associated industries, including waste disposal.
To sum up, Aurora is extremely proud of our collaboration with Micron Waste, the investment we have made into this company and the fact that this is world-leading innovation that is happening in Canada and we’re very proud to be part of it.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Terrific. Thank you to both groups for your presentations. We’re going to turn the floor over to senators to ask questions.
Senator Maltais: Mr. Wong and Mr. Battley, your company is listed, is it not?
Mr. Battley: Yes, on the TSX.
Senator Maltais: I imagine you used to work in the agricultural sector before coming here, growing lettuce, tomatoes, turnips, or what have you.
Mr. Battley: Before entering the cannabis sector, I spent my career in the biopharmaceutical sector.
Senator Maltais: What about you, Mr. Wong?
Mr. Wong: I used to run an organic waste recycling company in Asia as the CEO.
Senator Maltais: What made you interested in Canadian agriculture?
Mr. Wong: I was born and raised in Canada. I grew up believing firmly in the compost environment, teaching my two young kids the benefits of composting and returning nutrients back into the soil.
What attracted me to Micron Waste was essentially the green technology.
Senator Maltais: Your proposal is to grow 100,000 kilograms of cannabis. Is that correct?
Mr. Battley: That will be my company, Aurora. We will be producing, by the year 2020, in excess of 250,000 kilograms of cannabis per year in Canada and internationally.
Senator Maltais: Where are you going to develop your international sales?
Mr. Battley: We are building a 1 million square foot cannabis production facility in Denmark in addition to the two facilities we have in Alberta and the two in Quebec.
Senator Maltais: Mr. Wong, your company processes waste. Of your three bottles of water, you said the now-empty one contained natural water. Did I understand that correctly?
Mr. Wong: The water generated from our system is not for potable use. It’s not drinking water. It’s essentially a non-potable water that can be reused as gray water back into the agriculture process, whether it’s for farming, washing floors, toilets or discharged safely down the drain.
Senator Maltais: I have one last question. We are pressed for time. It’s unfortunate since we have 100,000 questions we would like to ask.
You mentioned Canadian investors, did you not? Are you sure they are all Canadian investors? Today, can you say for sure that all of the investors in your company are Canadians who live and pay taxes in Canada, and that you don’t have any foreign investors?
Mr. Wong: I am aware of the issue to which you’re referring. What I can tell you is that any public company does not know exactly who its investors are from one day to the next.
What I can tell you, however, is that well over 80 per cent of our investors are Canadian citizens and we do expect them to pay their taxes. However, Aurora does have investors in the United States, in Europe and in other parts of the world. We abide by all Canadian securities regulations but I think if the question here is whether we know all our investors are Canadian, no, they are not. We do have international investors like any public company.
Senator Oh: My question is open to all. Under the new legislation, Canadian adults will be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants in their home.
What challenge do home growers face in disposing of cannabis plant residue? If you are in a 30-storey condominium, it could be like a greenhouse. How is the cannabis going to come out?
Ms. Antler: From the perspective of composting, if a community has an organics recycling program available to householders, they can participate through a green bin collection, such as leaf and yard materials. That would be a perfect place to put the roots and the stems back into the composting process.
You could also compost at home. So if you have a backyard compost bin. Because cannabis is a plant. So there’s not an issue. The issue is more in terms of infrastructure and basically education.
We do have to recognize that folks will be allowed to grow cannabis at home, but if they have the infrastructure for regular composting it’s a perfect addition.
Quite honestly, in terms of the amount of cannabis waste that’s going to be produced relative to the amount of organic waste that is being produced by Canadians, it’s an infinitesimal number. It’s very small.
Mr. Battley: I should add to that. It’s important to understand that the waste from cannabis production is very low in cannabinoids or active pharmaceutical ingredients. When we talk about things like THC or CBD, cannabidiol, which is the primary non-psyhoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, the cannabinoids are highly concentrated in the flower of the plant, so the leaves and the stock, all of the waste is very low in cannabinoids. I thought that was a point that might be helpful to you.
Senator Oh: It is not harmful at all?
Mr. Battley: It’s not. It would take a great deal of that waste material. You’d have to gather a lot of it and then use an extraction process to extract the cannabinoids from that waste. It actually wouldn’t be worth it, which is why in virtually all cases it’s the flower itself, sometimes known as the bud, that people focus on.
Senator Oh: What is the timeline to a full-grown plant?
Mr. Battley: There’s a question. You can ask how long is a piece of string. What’s a full-grown plant? For Aurora’s purposes, we have different strains, and some strains, for example, that contain virtually no THC and are high in CBD and other strains that do contain THC. They have different growing cycles, some of them as little as six weeks to maturity, at which point we harvest them. Others are for longer periods of time, perhaps 10 or 12 weeks.
Now, that’s Aurora. There are other companies and perhaps other individuals, once they’re able to grow their own, who will grow their plants larger, and that will take a longer period of time.
The Chair: Some of you may have noticed a light flashing at the back of the room. There’s a vote. The vote is going to be at 6:57. There are six of us here. We can stay here. That’s one option. The other option would be to take a 20-minute break in about 10 minutes’ time, go vote and come right back to this panel, and the next panel would be late starting. Do you have any preference as to which we do? There is no preference?
Senator Doyle: I’m not speaking for my colleagues.
The Chair: We have four from your caucus.
Senator Doyle: We have to be there for the vote.
The Chair: If we’re going to be there for the vote, then we should leave in about 10 minutes, at the most, and catch the bus. Is that what you’d like to do, deputy chair?
Senator Maltais: We have to go and vote. As senators, we are bound to do so.
The Chair: Then we will come back.
Senator Doyle: I’ll be very short. The lights are flashing.
How much extra growth do you think your industry is going to experience from a well-established ongoing cannabis industry in the country? Is it going to be a big growth that the industry is going to experience? Could you tell me that?
Ms. Antler: As a Compost Council, we talked about it in terms of our committee. We have a committee because many of the provinces have asked us to put on our information best management practices in terms of how to manage the materials from cannabis production.
The comment was that this is very small. In terms of reality, we’re very excited about being here and the fact that you are part of the committee on agriculture and forestry and 33 million tonnes of waste is created every year and half of that is organic, that should be composted, should be returned to the soil. If it’s going to be cannabis that’s going to spur on organics recycling, then let’s go because we have a lot of work to do to build the infrastructure for organics recycling.
Senator Doyle: Your current industry, as it is right now, can more than handle any kind of a well-established cannabis industry?
Ms. Antler: Absolutely. Think about it from the perspective of 27 years of infrastructure, 27 years of communication, the networks of academia and regulators and the knowledge, the errors which are lessons learned, and the incorporation, the materials back to the soil.
Senator Doyle: I have one question. I hate to spur you on there, but the number of chemicals that are in cannabis, are they of worse than tobacco discards? What do you currently do with tobacco discards?
Ms. Antler: It’s composted.
Senator Doyle: Is it more difficult to do tobacco than it would be cannabis discards?
Brian King, Director of Compost Operations, GFL Environmental Inc.: I wouldn’t be concerned about the green side of the house on the compost. It’s the meat side, where you have salmonella and so on. That’s critical that you kill those bacteria.
On the green side, as far as cannabis and so on, there’s no real issue associated with it. You’re going to reach a high enough temperature at 55 degrees. That’s going to kill anything in there as far as the weed.
From the compost side, it’s a given. It should be a great feedstock. We focus from the end. It’s the compost that is produced that is our main driver. It’s given back. The leachate or the water that comes out of the aerobic process and composting, we actually take that and it becomes a liquid fertilizer. There is no residual going down the drain or anything at all. It’s driven from the back end product that we believe very strongly in.
Senator Doyle: Thank you.
Senator Eaton: I have two minutes. I’m a composter and a gardener. I love composting. I do think you have a huge education to get out there. The number of people who don’t know how to compost is shocking.
Micron Waste Technologies, how prepared are you for legalization? All of sudden you are going from the medical one to legalization. How prepared is your company to take this nationally, or are you already national?
Mr. Wong: As I mentioned, we are on track to install an operational unit at Aurora’s facility by June this year, and with subsequent installation at Aurora soon after. It is our hope that we can quickly ramp up production and service the entire cannabis industry. However, there is going to be a strong need for collaboration amongst government bodies, academics, the Compost Council of Canada as well as clean-tech companies, such as Micron, to really define the best-handling practices for cannabis waste.
Senator Eaton: Take me through the steps. I know how composting works. I can see it working perfectly. Take me through the steps. So you open your door from your big greenhouses, you are clearing out all the plants. What happens?
Mr. Wong: If you think about us as a pre-treatment step to prepare the solids for composting, essentially we’re grinding down the material to fine particle size. We grind them down, we use a microprocess to digest it, and the slurry generated from the organic process.
Senator Eaton: You don’t have to add any chemicals, just by grinding it down like a food processor?
Mr. Wong: The microbes do the work and turns it into a slurry.
Senator Eaton: The microbes in the cannabis itself?
Mr. Battley: The proprietary microbes of Micron Waste Technologies, that’s the technology, that’s the innovation. These microbes are specifically designed to break down protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Senator Eaton: They’re natural.
Mr. Battley: Absolutely natural.
Senator Eaton: So you could take the slurry and put it on an organic farm and it would still be organic?
Mr. Wong: You could, but the fact that because there are still THC and CBD compounds within the liquid phase, our waste water treatment plant essentially takes out all the cannabis compounds. The biosolids generated from our system are actually perfectly suited for composting, with water moisture levels around 40 to 60 per cent.
Senator Eaton: But I could put it on my organic garden or organic vegetables?
The Chair: I’m going to have to break now. Senator Black has questions and Senator Maltais on the next round.
There is a bus outside waiting for us, so I’m going to adjourn.