In a previous post “Why Organic’s Better: the Benefits of Organic Cannabis” we dove into the world of organic products. We talked about what it takes to be certified, why organic is better, and the health and safety benefits of organic cannabis. The use of cannabis in soil remediation was briefly mentioned, but we felt this topic deserved more attention.
In this post, we will look at the causes of soil contamination, the need for cleaner soil remediation techniques (including phytoremediation), and the future of cannabis in this industry. To understand where we are going, we must know where we’ve been. So with that, we must start from the very beginning…
Industrialization & Environmental Remediation
In the late 1700’s, the Industrial Revolution brought about the age of big machines and mass production. Manufacturing was rapid, and the range of product dispersal grew just as quickly.
Since that time, there has been a battle between propelling our economy forward, and keeping our environment safe.
Today, we frequently hear concerning news about environmental disasters, and the damage they cause. Just days ago, a deadly oil spill in Borneo covered 7000 hectares of mangrove forest, and polluted an estimated 80km of coastline.
Whether these events are anthropogenic (originating from human activity) or natural disasters, as society, we face the aftermath. We have to answer the question of how to take back our broken and contaminated land.
An increase in demand for land in areas, means we need to address contamination using effective remediation techniques. Remediation is a complicated process, and varies greatly between air, water, and soil. Here we focus our attention entirely on soil remediation via the use of cannabis.
Soil contamination can be rapid, as is the case for many environmental disasters. However, heavy metals can also accumulate in soil over time through anthropogenic activities.
When we think about pollution on this earth, we are quick to envision smog blanketing our big cities. Or waves of plastic water bottles coating undeserving shorelines.
It is not often that one thinks of soil pollution as a major threat. However, heavy metals accumulate in soil in concentrations much greater than in water and air. Heavy metals cycle through our ecosystems, and are considered to be one of the most toxic pollutants. As contaminated areas increase, we find that one of our biggest environmental challenges is right beneath our feet.
In the past, soil remediation has been achieved predominately by chemical means. These methods are invasive and expensive. Chemical remediation is also not always effective because heavy metals, unlike organic contaminants, don’t undergo degradation. Heavy metals can undergo speciation in soil, which is the movement into different chemical forms. Some heavy metal forms are bound to the soil, while others are free for use within our ecosystems.
The microbes and plant roots can take up these free metals. They may also move further up into the plant, for potential consumption by animals. This has the benefit of removing the metals from the soil, but inevitably cycles the metals through our ecosystems. Heavy metals are a huge public health problem and therefore, must be dealt with in a way that removes them from the cycle entirely.
In Situ vs. Ex Situ Remediation
Traditional soil remediation techniques are broken down into in situ (on-site) and ex situ (excavation and removal) treatments. Ex situ treatments are expensive, and are limited to smaller areas and surface soil.
Chemical or physical in situ techniques are less expensive, but often create infertile soil, which is unsuitable for agriculture. With a focus on sustainable approaches that result in agriculturally-stable land, phytoremediation is an in situ technique that is quickly gaining interest.
Phytoremediation, Fibre Crops & Cannabis
Phytoremediation is the use of living plants to remove, degrade, or reduce the bioavailability of soil contaminants. Plants are masters at filtering toxins from the soil, but what happens to these toxin-rich plants once they have fulfilled their role?
Fibre crops are a group of plant species that are proving to be a promising answer to this question. Fibre crops encompass many different plant families, but their one common characteristic is that they have a large harvestable biomass. This biomass can be used as a commercial and industrial resource, and can even be used in the production of biofuels and energy.
Hemp (Cannabis sativa) species, with their ease of growth in most regions and low cost to rapidly produce, are a great candidate for phytoremediation. In a recent study, Cannabis plants demonstrated their ability to transfer several heavy metals from root to shoot, which is one of the criterion necessary for phytoremediation suitability. Not only is Cannabis a great option for heavy metal hyperaccumulation, but its bioenergy yield has been reported to be comparable to major energy crops and diminishing fossil fuels. Though researchers continue to discover more uses and potential for this versatile crop, soil remediation using hemp is not a new practice. Take these two environmental disasters, for example:
Pripyat, Ukraine, 1986
A catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant results in a 30km wide “dead” zone in the surrounding area. This zone is now considered one of the most radioactively contaminated areas in the world. Almost immediately after the disaster, plant-based soil remediation techniques were implemented. Hemp plantings began in 1998, marking the first successful, documented use of hemp in soil remediation.
“Hemp is proving to be one of the best phyto-remediative plants we have been able to find”
— Slavik Dushenkov, on Chernobyl soil remediation
Toranto, Italy, 2008
A local farmer trades in his herds for hemp crops, after a toxic chemical spill from a nearby steel plant contaminates his farm land. Shoulder-high cannabis plants line the fields where more than 600 sheep used to graze before the contamination. After the government ordered a mass culling of livestock, many farmers were left with non-arable land, and without a source of income. Since then, hundreds of farmers are taking soil remediation into their own hands by planting cannabis in the surrounding area.
For centuries now, plants have been dubbed the “Green Livers” of our ecosystems. Plants can treat a wide variety of contaminants, and naturally filter the soil they reside in. In addition, plants are solar-powered, making them extremely cost-efficient.
Hemp crops are a noteworthy candidate for phytoremediation, as they are one of most easily domesticated and fastest growing plants known to mankind. Hemp plants also have little need for pesticides, as they have a natural resistance to pests. What can’t this super plant do?
The Need for Organic Soil
If you’ve stuck with us through all this science, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that hemp wins! Soil remediation via cannabis is extremely promising. It is an effective technique in filtering soil toxins, and its products can also be beneficial for our environment.
This is fantastic news for land remediation, but should also sound alarm bells for those using and growing Cannabis. The hemp we use, especially for our medicine and our food, has to be grown in organic soil. Plants are capable of absorbing almost all chemical elements from their environment. This means that what you put into your soil, will almost certainly end up in your bud.
At BlueSky Organics, our products are the first of their kind, specifically formulated for producing organically-certifiable, high-quality craft cannabis.
At BlueSky we believe in the whole cycle. We believe in growing from the ground up, with certified, organic ingredients for a clean, green, end-product.
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