About the Episode
Join us in learning about the clean-up and recycling mission of The High 5 Initiative. This organization focuses on ways to provide paths to communities to be environmental stewards. We also talk about the importance of positive feedback loops and how that’s impacted High 5’s relationship with dispensaries!
Host: Kevin Johnson, Director of Creative Marketing at Peake ReLeaf
Featured Guest: Phil Ash, Executive Director of The High 5 Initiative
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Tell us about you. And what is The High 5 Initiative?
[00:00:00] Phil Ash, Executive Director of The High 5 Initiative: I was born and raised in Baltimore. And then I guess my mom moved to the county but they were split, so I split my time between the county and the city. And eventually they took me out of the cities or the city school system and put me in the county school system.
[00:00:35] So the first step was the county. And then, I moved to Harford county and then I eventually moved to where I am now, which is in Cecil county, which is pretty far away. So right now I live about an hour from Philly and an hour from Baltimore based on 95. If I get the itch to go to the cities, I can go.
[00:00:55] But at the same time I can also get a real, crazy dose of nature. It’s totally like a different environment. And people are people, but the environments are quite different. And that, it’s an impressive thing to find some nature and some solitude and some of that.
[00:01:13] It’s a hidden kind of scenario when I was in the city. It wasn’t the same, like it is a different story. So I guess I’m lucky in that kind of sense where I get to, we really do get to visit some crazy, really unusual Maryland environments. Right now I live in a watertown called Northeast, Maryland.
[00:01:37] And it’s got things that I’ve never seen. It’s got five different soil types and stuff because the town itself is, like it’s on the beginning of a peninsula. So there’s lots of little tributary creeks and rivers that end up hitting the bay. So there’s actually five rivers in this little town or not this town, this county.
[00:01:56] And you see the evidence of such great, environmental changes in different things that happen here. You can see it really quickly. And it’s pretty impressive.
[00:02:06] And I dunno if I’m allowed to cuss, but I’ll probably cuss (sorry) but you see these massive rocks on either side and I’m always like, man, that’s crazy. Like we’d go down to port deposit and put deposits a little town, but it’s got this massive granite rock on either side. And it’s just this fascinating, like section of geography that just is very unusual.
[00:02:26] It turns out those rocks are 4 million years old and it’s from a volcano that actually separated and laid out this sort of valley that allows for most of the walls. All the way up from New York to come down through this one watershed into this river and then ends up in our bay.
[00:02:53] And you just don’t know that stuff in Baltimore, around and be like, you can’t touch the Waterfield. Why? Because you’re going to get something. Pennsylvania’s got, we got this one dam here. So like in Maryland, we get to the dam to wind your dam. And we’re like, that’s it Maryland actually goes a little bit above that. But north of that, Pennsylvania’s got tons of dams. They’ve got, I dunno, four or five more. And each one holds in each along the entire waterway is hospitals and wastewater treatment facilities and all that stuff.
[00:03:31] And it turns out that’s where you get your water, like the stuff that you drink. So here, when I was in Baltimore they had the golden eggs, which are now in trouble. But before that, they were the golden eggs you’d drive by and you’d be like, I don’t want to drive by, you roll up your windows and turn all this stuff and you’d be like, oh man, up here.
[00:03:53] Those golden eggs are a water treatment facility. So they actually, when I was a kid, Baltimore had the number two cleanest water in America. Like it was the best like you could do, it was sellable up here on a real rainy day. Like today it’s raining.
[00:04:11] Pretty good. I’ll get it in the mail in about two weeks. It will say that I got to boil my water and that’s because the water that’s coming down from New York and through Pennsylvania and through all of that stuff ends up being the water that we use to drink. It’s called surface water. So here and actually it’s everywhere except for Baltimore, one of these massive cities that have really, they have to really do good.
[00:04:43] It changes the name of the game. So you start to think about it a little bit different, and you’re like, W why is that? And, the further, more rural you get, the more tied in you get, but you become, you ended up [00:05:00] understanding a lot more and becoming a little bit more self, dependent instead of an interdependent, is the right way to say that with the local environment because it affects you more.
[00:05:14] And in the city, you’re shielded from that to a degree like your initial stuff, but the longterm stuff sits there and gets you on the backend. Like you didn’t know about the air quality is for sheriff and the big companies that have taken out your trash. If they throw it in the incinerator, they’ll put it in the same landfill that sits right next to the waterway, which is the same surface water that ends up in.
[00:05:40] And then you wonder why you got this weird, gross stuff happening to you. So yeah, it’s an interesting thing over here. But it is, yeah, it’s pretty far away. Yeah. It feels a lot more like I actually live in a small town and a Watertown on top of that. So there’s a lot of this localized scenario.
[00:06:03] So it tends to make the world a little bit smaller. And you have a little bit more connection with the people around you. And the result of that can be pretty impressive in a lot of different ways. But the cool thing about it for me is that it really enables me to focus on what I have control over instead of.
[00:06:32] What’s going on way over there, and I’m going to get mad about that thing over there, here locally. If you focus on yourself and this, locus of control or whatever you want to call that center point, instead of being so distracted by way the hell over there and judging yourself against that stuff, you can actually have a much closer impact.
[00:06:54] And that’s one of the things that helped us or help me. I think my wife already knew that stuff. She’s a lot smarter than me. But they, she generally is, but yeah, I think it helped me understand that you could either, you could complain about something or you could do something right.
[00:07:16] In this small town kind of aspect You can really have a greater impact just by enabling people to do the thing. So in the city I don’t know, it’s a little bit different. There’s a lot more people, so it makes it a lot more difficult to enable everybody to do this thing. If we do a cleanup, it’s really about enabling the community to clean up the community, right?
[00:07:44] It’s not like rocket science, all of our programs are the same. They’re just paths that enable somebody to do something that they were already wanting to do. And up here you can do that and see it differently. It’s a different strategy in the city. So it’s an interesting process, the recycling industry or the recycling program tells me, is one kind of strategy.
[00:08:10] The clean-up initiative is a different kind of strategy. The water monitoring is another different kind of strategy. They adopt all these things are slightly different strategies that enable different things. And what do people actually want to do? That’s a big thing to make it a sustainable thing.
[00:08:30] The feedback loops have to be there and it has to be something that people would like to try and do. I explain this stuff differently to different people but there’s always, it always comes back. The simplest way to explain it is just, we were this last time that you could vote or whatever, we were standing in line.
[00:08:52] And I guess people like there was a big ass line and people brought their kids and stuff and it was that like a school. And the kids have. They do what kids do, which is they eat candy. And then if there’s no trash can around and overdue to whoop their ass, cause they didn’t put it in the right thing, they just drop it on the ground.
[00:09:12] So eventually if you’re standing in line for a really long time, you’re out of school, you’re going to start seeing all these little wrappers and whatever. So everybody in this line, all whatever, cause it was pandemic season two and they’re all stressed and whatever. And they’re looking at this trash on the ground and the feedback loop in their head is very strange because they look at it.
[00:09:35] They don’t like it. It doesn’t look right. It makes them get a negative feedback response. But then they don’t do anything. They don’t pick it up, they just look at it and then they get them. Now they’re frustrated. It’s a different part of the mind. Now you’re frustrated because you didn’t like it. You shouldn’t have to pick that up, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, this whole thing.
[00:09:54] And they get more and more mad. And I was watching this, I was standing in there[00:10:00] doing whatever it was cold. And I was watching this gentleman and he was so mad. He was just mad at this whole scenario. There’s trash on the ground. So I looked down and there was trash on the ground.
[00:10:12] So I picked it up, it seemed like easy, right? Yeah. Can you hold my spot in line, pick up this trash. And I walk and I’m walking to the trash candidates are there and the trash can and I picked up one that was right next to him that it really upset him. And I throw it in the trash because what are you going to tell you?
[00:10:35] The thing, and that simple act. He like had a whole mine, then he was like, oh shit, I can pick it up. And then he did, and then it was really funny. So it was like, I throw, I literally picked up to it was probably some old ladies stuff.
[00:10:53] And all of a sudden this guy started picking it up and then some other people started to pick it up and because they weren’t doing anything, they were just sitting there giving them an action that enabled them to do or correct, or work on the thing that was upsetting them was really all it took.
[00:11:12] And by the time I actually ended up going to vote, which is like another half an hour, 45 minutes. It was a long line. Yeah, the whole place is frigging cleaned up by the people in the line.
[00:11:23] And it
[00:11:23] was just because this guy had been very obviously upset and I’ve picked up two things that were those originals and threw them.
[00:11:31] It was just this idea that, all right, here’s the need is you don’t like the trash there. That’s a very valid need because if it’s on the ground, then it devalues what is there. And then we find that trash ends up being a magnet for other tracks. So if you have a clean area, you will throw trash in a different area, just humans.
[00:11:54] That’s what we do. But if you see trash there, you’re like, oh shit, that’s trash. And more trash ends up there. So it tends to be like, when we see this all the time, the cleanups, if you clean up an area and it looks pretty good to throw trash there, you have to overcome your own shame. So like you internally have to go, oh, I’m that asshole.
Why such a big push to collect Maryland Cannabis patients recyclables?
[00:12:20] Kevin: So you think that mirror is going to be your experiences with dealing with different dispensaries where initially, maybe dispensaries were like a little standoffish about the initiative, just because they didn’t see it as like a viable avenue, then they saw someone else committing to the action and then they were like, oh, maybe there’s some value in doing this.
[00:12:36] And that kind of changed their mindset. Did you have any experiences like that?
[00:12:40] Phil: We did. Yeah, we have each. So when we started the recycling program, it was for the recycling program itself is literally for everybody, it’s a forest bias kind of program. And it is just to enable people to do something with this stuff.
[00:12:59] They don’t, you’re a patient, you come in, you buy weed, you smoke your weed and then you’re left with this plastic thing. And then you don’t know what to do with it. So you think you’re going to recycle it. So for us, I thought I was going to recycle it. So I, was stupid. I asked the question, I was like, do you have to take the label off?
Why not just put the recyclable items into “blue” recycling bins?
[00:13:18] That was my question, to risk, to enable the existing industry, to recycle this thing. And they were like I don’t know that answer. So we got this education in recycling and ended up finding out that none of this stuff is recyclable, which sort of was like, And then we went to the dispensaries and we said, Hey, did you know, this stuff is too small to be recycled?
[00:13:47] They were like, no, I didn’t know that. And some of them, you ask these questions to different people and it builds on. And when we were asking different dispensaries about it first, they didn’t know. And then second, they were afraid. I was like, all so why don’t you like to do something about it?
[00:14:09] They told me, when we first started, there was a concern with compliance. So when we first started, it was November, 2019. So right before pandemic kind of. And when we started to ask people different things, they told us that they were concerned that it wasn’t compliant because at the time that if some, if a patient had come back in and dropped off recycling in a dispensary inside the dispensary it would have been considered something called green waste.
[00:14:43] And this goes back to every single time that’s slightly different obstacles and things to enable people to do what they inherently want to do. So this was called green waste. And that actually put a dispensary in jeopardy. Like they could get they would be [00:15:00] out of compliance. They would be potentially liable for fees from the MMCC.
[00:15:07] And it was just this inaccurate feedback loop. I’m trying to do the right thing, but you’re going to find me for it. That’s dumb. Don’t do that. So we ended up talking to a lot of different dispensaries and finding out what that was. No, they wanted to do it. They wanted to do something. The amount of packaging waste in any industry isn’t new, but the cannabis industry and the patients and everybody else, the people working in it were aware, they were aware of this issue and they didn’t know what to do.
[00:15:39] They didn’t know how to pick up the trash and put it in the trash can deal. And they had a couple of blocks. The first block was the compliance issues. And then the second thing was, yeah, there was a question about how you get people to think. And now it’s okay to do this.
[00:15:59] There’s a thing called a theory of design. It’s called Maya: M-A-Y-A and it’s the most advanced yet acceptable. So that’s about where people will adopt something, they won’t go farther than that. So if I tell you, you can fly to the whatever–moon or something, you won’t do that.
[00:16:19] But if I tell you, I got an electric drone, that’s gonna pick you up and move. If it makes sense to you. You’re okay with it. But too far is too far, you won’t do it. So while people were concerned about the dispensary, the industry itself was concerned about the obstacles.
[00:16:37] It had to enable people to do it. We were trying to figure out what those things were. And then, not intending to actually develop a recycling program where we do the recycling or the first step. It was totally a research intent to try and figure out how to get somebody like TerraCycle cycle or.
[00:17:00] Preserve or somebody else who specializes in this thing to actually be able to do it. And then eventually those people said they can’t. When we went to TerraCycle, we figured out how much essentially plastic in pop tops that the industry locally just here in Maryland was producing and they said they couldn’t do it.
[00:17:24] And we can’t actually do it for other states. We get questions about other states all the time, but we can’t cross a state line. So there’s no difference in DC cannabis containers, then Pennsylvania canvas containers in Maryland canvas containers. They’re all too small to be recycled in a normal single stream.
[00:17:44] So everybody’s got the same problem, but if you travel across state lines it’s considered What is that diversion, et cetera, it’s a federal offense. So you can get us to fill up the Subaru with pop tops and drive across. Let’s say Pennsylvania, I live really close to Pennsylvania. That’s a federal offense and that’s a bad feedback loop, right?
[00:18:10] It doesn’t make any sense. So the first feedback loop was Maryland and the cannabis commission’s feedback loop that was really blocking the dispensaries from even trying anything. So we redefined it and Maryland was the first state to redefine it and they did it really easily. Other states have had to pass bills to do the exact same thing.
[00:18:34] So they have to pull legislation and stuff. They settled on recycling when I went to the MMCC and talked to them about it. But I pushed for reusable. I said, what about reusing? The container, why don’t, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been snuggling me for a really long time.
[00:18:53] And if I had an extra bag, I’d fill that back kind of game. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have to go buy a new bag every damn time or whatever. It just seems simpler. Why don’t we just wash it, but it turns out that you need a lot of different answers. There’s not just one solution.
[00:19:12] And so anyway I didn’t know how to do legislation. I had never done that before, but I didn’t know how to do recycling either. So I said, what about recycling? They said, show me recycling, calling my bluff that you could build a recycling program specifically for these things. And eventually, I guess I got irritated cause they said bullshit.
[00:19:38] And so we ended up making one and it was a, it’s a pretty incredible process. To build a nonprofit is different than building a regular business. It’s a lot, it’s similar in a lot of ways, but it is different because it is fully mission [00:20:00] based. So you can’t actually make money and apply it to anything differently.
[00:20:06] Like it’s a very, the structure itself limits you to focusing on the output of what you’re doing. So it was a pretty interesting process and we ended up working with all of them, so every county in Maryland has their own recycling coordinator. I don’t know. What do you know about recycling?
[00:20:31] Kevin: Not as much as you.
What happens to the recycled items after patients bring them in? (the recycling process)
[00:20:33] Phil: sure, but I didn’t, I was just like you trust me if I, there’s a lot of times where I’m like, I don’t want to know any of this stuff. So recycling it’s like let’s go back and we’ll talk about recycling. Recycling itself is scrapping, so it’s easier to do that. I always tell people it’s just scrapping with better marketing.
[00:20:58] But it’s generally for your waste, your trash, things that you don’t want to use anymore. But in order to scrap something, you have to separate it and it is specific materials. So if you’re scrapping metal, it’s easy, you can pick it up with a magnet, get it out, separate it. And then they melt all the metal down and it’s.
[00:21:18] When you melt metal down, it levels out. So this top level will have this lighter metal, this middle level, we’ll have this different metal on the bottom level of this other metal. And there’ll be slag on the top. You scoop all that stuff. It’s very energy consuming, but it’s easy to do. Plastic is a little bit different.
[00:21:38] You actually have to separate the stuff because if you mix the two plastics, you can’t actually recycle it. And it ends up being not a good deal. So you want to separate all these different types of materials and, to do that on a mass scale, eventually they came up with something called the single stream.
[00:22:01] So there’s different streams. So you can imagine like you throw all your stuff into one stream and it goes somewhere and then they sort out there’s other things called dual streams, which is what this is. Where you separate them in Israel. So you can think of those, there was a time where Baltimore used to separate the paper.
[00:22:21] You put the paper over here, but you keep all the other stuff in this thing. And that’s because they had a buyer for the paper because recycling or scrapping is a for-profit industry. So if they can’t actually make money off the thing it’s a waste to them as well. Does that make sense?
[00:22:44] So papers are pretty easily recyclable. There’s a big old industry for it. Metal is easily recyclable because you could separate it. And there’s, it becomes a commodity. So the eventual price for that thing that you’re recycling is really the economic driver of that type of industry. So for instance, if you do aluminum for the last 20 years, Has had a, I think it’s like a 33 cent per pound price on very consistent.
[00:23:15] You can build a business off of that price. When we started with this plastic, it was 2 cents a pound. It’s just not valuable. So they, unless it’s not valuable to separate small things, right? So you can imagine it’s just not enough meat on the bone for them to actually make any money quickly.
[00:23:41] Because when it’s 2 cents a pound, you actually have to have 40,000 pounds to be able to sell it. And it has to be a certain quality. So it has to be a certain, like if you’re going to have 40,000 pounds of number five plastic the way the industry was right when we started. You had to have a contamination rate.
[00:24:03] That means any other materials in that number five had to be less than 0.5%. So 40,000 pounds 0.5% is, it’s hard to verify that you have this kind of quality material. And then it’s only 2 cents a pound. 40,000 pounds of cannabis pop tops seven 53-foot containers . We didn’t produce that many at that point in Maryland.
[00:24:30] And I was like, so anyway that particular price per pound tells you where you’re, when you can transport it, when you can send it to the next place, because that’s the limit. It’s the transportation cost. So dual stream is, when you separate the material prior to putting it all in one thing the single stream is the sort of thing everybody ends up with.
[00:24:58] So you’re talking about your blue [00:25:00] containers outside of your house. You’re recycling whatever containers outside of your business, they all go to the single stream. A dual stream would be like the oil that some food producers actually separate and put out to the back that goes to a different place, right?
[00:25:20] It’s about separation at once, so for the single stream, they ended up all going to someplace called an MRF material recovery facility, which is sorta like this Willy Wonka style sorting facility. You can imagine what you think of these big resorts. Flags are flying and things are going all over the place and.
[00:25:45] But what happens first is there’s, so I’m in Cecil county, right? And I throw stuff in a blue bin and it goes to the dump, the local dump. And this happens in every county. It’s just, this one does this one thing, each one I’ll tell you about other ones, but so I send it to this dump. They send it from there.
[00:26:07] They only have a buyer for the paper. So they take off all the big pieces of paper that they can get because they have somebody who will pay for that. And that’s an income stream. So they want that everything else is trashed to them because they don’t actually recycle. So there is a recycling coordinator whose job it is to actually do the logistics and figure out where to send this material to be recycled.
[00:26:32] So they all go to a MRF or material recovery facility. The recovery facilities are spread out through the state of Maryland. There are. Four are, I believe four are privately owned and two are county owned. So the privately owned ones are there for money and money owners. It turns out the county ones are there for money and money too.
[00:26:58] So from my county, we ship it to Baltimore county which is a decent amount of way. And we pay them for that. So that comes out of our citizens taxes or residential taxes. So my stuff goes to the dump. The dump puts it, drops it off of that truck onto something called a roll off container, which is an open top sort of giant dumpster.
[00:27:24] And then they put that on. And they pay for that truck to drive from Cecil county to Baltimore county. And then at Baltimore county, they drop off the roll off. Now this goes over the water and a bunch of other stuff. And it’s an open top. Remember? So this stuff flies out the whole damn time. In fact, that’s an industry term, it’s called leakage.
[00:27:43] When stuff comes up, there’s a standard leakage number of 3%. So 3% of all your trash is expected. It’s expected. So it’s an actual measurement that if you go over that, then they want to do something about but if you under that, then they give you a little sticker. You didn’t do it as badly as you could have.
[00:28:04] So then they go over to Baltimore county and they drop it off on this big ass conveyor belt. And they run all the stuff over a conveyor belt. Now the conveyor belt leads to a screen and I don’t know if I always call it a strong screen. That’s well, obvious why anyway, other people would call it a “what is that”?
[00:28:27] A horizontal trellis or a horizontal gun, a system that has, so it’s a screen with holes in it, but I call it a strong stream because the sizing is similar. It’s a four-inch hole. So anything smaller than four inches is going to fall through that hole, right? Everything that falls through the hole gets sent over is considered, not enough meat on the bone, too much work to actually make any money off of all considered trash and goes into the local dumps period.
[00:28:59] So everything from Cecil county that you don’t get, it turns out that it’s about 3% of the stuff that you throw in your do people typically throw in their blue bin, ends up getting recycled. It’s incredible to me. And it’s all about the system behind it. It’s very difficult. And they had, they did, they had gotten sort of complacent.
[00:29:24] They were sending everything to China for China to deal with, waste was our number one export risk or mixed recyclables was the US’s number one export. And then China in 2017 and implemented in 2018. So they wouldn’t take any because they changed the spec. So it was 5% contamination.
[00:29:47] Then they’d just crunched it down to 0.5%. Nobody could meet that spec. So then we actually have to deal with it now. So since 2018, none of our stuff has been leading. It’s all been, [00:30:00] we had to deal with our own stuff here and it wasn’t just the United States. It’s about 92% of the world, which is a lot of it.
[00:30:06] There’s this, then there’s stuff in China now. Everybody’s got it. So it’s here, it stays here. So what happens when you have 97% of your trash or your recycling staying here now, it ends up, they, put it in the landfills and it stays in the landfills. And it just fills up the landfills.
[00:30:27] So during the pandemic, while everybody, it’s the same thing happening at the exact same time, the landfill capacities have just been so reduced. Baltimore is, I think the last time I checked when I was looking, I stopped looking because it was tricking me out. But they stopped collecting recycling and all types of stuff to the landfill capacity in Baltimore is almost full.
[00:30:53] So they’re actually having to ship out. So they ship it to other places, just the regular trash, because they don’t have enough. What, and that you were paying for, right? Not only can you, not the, is the system not able to catch and do anything with all this material you’re going to pay for it. And that the end result is the people have to pay for that stuff.
[00:31:18] And then on top of that, the health effects and the environmental effects are just crazy. So all this stuff is happening at the same time. And we ended up contacting every recycling coordinator and going through all of the different cannabis packages, what’s the best one. Is there a best one?
[00:31:37] What’s the least bad one, eventually, going through all these things. Cause I don’t know. I didn’t know. And I wasn’t sure how to define that. And it turned out that no matter what I showed them, bags. I showed them big pop tops. There’s the giant one’s place to stump.
[00:31:58] And he said, no, I can’t, we don’t recycle any of that stuff. And I’d call every other one. I’d call the ones that were supposed to be really good at it. The best in the state. And when you talk to the people in the front end, you read the flier and they’d be like, oh yeah, I can take this.
[00:32:16] And then you’d call. And you’d say here, it’s this pig. And they’d say, nah, I don’t want that shit. And you’d be like, what, do you want me to do with it? And they’d say, throw it away. So it didn’t matter if you were a patient, if you threw it in your blue bin, it was going in the trash. If you throw it in the regular trash can, that’s exactly where it was going.
[00:32:38] It just felt like a lie. Like I was lying to myself, but threw it in the recycling. So I, we were a little bit like. So while we were talking to the recycling coordinators today, explained all this stuff, that it was basically an economic decision from the industry. It’s just, they didn’t have the infrastructure to actually separate it.
[00:33:00] And the economic impact was that it was too difficult to actually do, which resulted in us having to fill up landfills extremely quickly. I don’t know if you’ve ever done it, if you don’t, maybe you shouldn’t, but if you Google where the landfills are, you’ll find out where they are. And if you Google, or if you just look at that and then you associate that with all the different things that happen environmentally around, you’ll find out right away.
How did you build the system for recycling #5 plastics?
[00:33:31] Why is this a concern? And there were questions: What do you do? How do you do this? How much recycling is the canvas and how do you do any of this? So the recycling coordinators helped us understand. And then they actually told us you gotta start a nonprofit because the obstacle was financial.
[00:34:02] It wasn’t that you couldn’t recycle number five plastic. The only obstacle was that they couldn’t do it. So the people who were wanting to and the people who were supposed to weren’t able to work that out. Trying to understand that and then bringing it back to the MMCC and the dispensaries–that is really an educational thing.
[00:34:29] And then how do you build this out? How do you create a system that enables people to do this and how do you help the dispensary? It’s obviously a community kind of deal. Patients bring back their stuff to participate in collection centers. For dispensaries, it’s part of their customer journey.
[00:34:51] So we empty the weed (or whatever they do with the weed). Some people do other stuff and then they bring them back.
How are dispensaries involved in the cannabis recycling process?
[00:35:00] [Recycling] becomes this cycle where [patients] can build a habit. They don’t have to really think about it too hard. And that’s, what we ask from the dispensary is how, can you help?
[00:35:16] You can do this. You can actually, I don’t know, set aside a part of your place to capture this stuff back. You’re only going to capture so much. But it’s about enabling people to pick up the trash and put it in the trashcan or whatever the deal is, the thing that they do the right thing. So that’s all, and it, and so that’s how that came about.
[00:35:41] So we surveyed a whole bunch of different patients and it turned out that everybody was doing the same thing. When we were new patients, yet you have this bean or this bag or something that sits in the side. And at first, you keep your first jar and you’re like, Ooh, first jar.
[00:35:59] And then the second jar and then the third jar, and you start filling up this, you can’t keep them on your shelf or in the kitchen or whatever. Because they get in your way when they’re empty, you don’t want to keep them empty things. So you throw them in this bag because there’s medical information on there.
[00:36:13] It turned out that every new patient that we were talking to did the same thing. They all had a bag or a bin or something in their closet where they had all their weed container jars that were empty. And then all of a sudden they wanted to throw them away. And that’s exactly what was happening to us.
[00:36:33] It’s yeah, we were saving them. Because we knew throwing them in the trash didn’t feel good. So eventually, we created the path. We learned what that path was. What, how, did you have to do it? Who would do that? All right. So let’s say you collected them and now you got them. Where do they go then? What is the process?
What’s the process for recycling cannabis containers?
[00:36:51] So the first part of recycling is don’t know if you can see this number five, but it’s got these three arrows, right? So that’s what recycling is. It’s a full circular process, got three steps to it. The first step is bringing it back, collecting it, separating it, sorting all these other things that you have to do to get it back down to essentially just number five plastic.
[00:37:22] And then that’s step one. Step two is you give that stuff to a manufacturer and the manufacturer makes something out of it, right? So they make something and you’ll see these things, that’ll say X amount of percent post-consumer or posts, recycled content or whatnot. And then the third step is when you, the consumer, buys one of those things.
[00:37:48] So in your mind, or in my mind, I went through all right, how much plastic is there in the world? There’s a lot, I don’t know the manufacturing step, how many people are making stuff out of that stuff. But I can tell you that there’s not many things that I could find that were recycled content, plastic.
[00:38:11] Most of it, you can easily see most of it isn’t recycled. Where does it go? What does it use for what is you, had to learn all that stuff. So we had to find what, we had to figure out what we could do. So the first part was, give it to somebody who knew how to do this. And then nobody was willing to do well.
[00:38:33] We could have, I guess we could have stopped there then that sucked. But as life has it, you talk to friends and they call you out or whatever the deal is. And you’re like, all right fine, And then you start something and you build out the system. All right. Here’s how it goes.
[00:38:51] So our process is interesting, but we, at the time when we were looking for somebody else who could sell it and make that conversion to the second step. Those people are called post-secondary processors. And they take that material and make it into a raw material, whatever it is, most of them just clean it up.
[00:39:18] And then they’re the distributor to the manufacturers for this type of material. And, at the time we looked all over the place and you can’t find one. And that’s because there weren’t any, at the time, it was right when China stopped there, there’s stuff with this, with the national sword.
[00:39:39] And so there wasn’t any us based secondary processors. We were exporting at all, which seemed crazy. So we actually found the only one in the United States at that point, there’s been a few more that could do anything with number five polypropylene. There are some that can do stuff.
How does #5 plastic differ from #1 and #2 in Maryland? Why is recycling so complicated?
[00:40:00] Most of the people if you talk to any of the recycling coordinators in Maryland right now, they will talk to you about number one, plastic and number two plastic.
[00:40:09] There’s a path for those certain ones. They have to be so big and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s very detailed. But there wasn’t anything for number five plastic because it just wasn’t worth, remember it was 2 cents a pound. Everybody was like more money than hands. So there’s no money in it.
[00:40:28] Nobody wants to do it. What are you going to do? So we ended up having to contact it. They’re actually in Alabama. Yeah. So they had a contract with one of these recycling companies, just in case, how do you do this? How do you clean up number five plants? And they’re the ones that we take our stuff to and they do a wash and then they grind it down a little bit finer than we do to put it into the industry standard for posts.
[00:41:02] It’s called PCR. Post-consumer recycled plastic. And they can actually clean it up and have a buyer for it. And our goal was all right, how do you actually recycle it? Not just say you’re recycling. How do you ask people to want to do this? I would like to recycle my stuff.
[00:41:24] How do you enable that? And that sort of became how we do stuff. It is about creating a path and that path should have really good, positive feedback loops. That positive feedback loop thing is a really big deal. If there’s, if you don’t get any enjoyment or there’s no positivity to it you just won’t do it, you’ll see it as work.
[00:41:48] And you’d be like, screw that I don’t have to. And you’ll find reasons that you don’t want to. And this is about how do you create positive feedback loops to enable people to do that? And so we built out a system. We went to the dispensaries and we said, “What do you think?”
What was it like pitching the High 5 Initiative’s system to dispensaries?
[00:42:04] [Dispensaries] said prove [our system]. And we ended up in the vet, after a little while we got a few dispensaries. I remember it was a pretty interesting thing. And when we went to this one dispensary and I pitched him–me and my wife–and we pitched them and we said, what do you think about this problem?
[00:42:26] What do you think about us trying to help? And they were like “Does it call?” and then, so we ended up actually trying–they gave us a shot. And that was the first piece of positive feedback. And then we went to another one and we said, what do you think? And they tried and they rocked it.
[00:42:47] I was like, we’re, this is a pilot program. Nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen. It’s very transparent. Everybody helps one another. Or at least we try. So if they have questions or something or have better ideas, like there’s no best practices in this yet. So it’s, we’re trying to create what are the best practices?
How do you enable people and get them excited to recycle?
[00:43:09]There was a problem and we ended up trying to figure out a way to solve it and enable people to do it. We worked with the recycling coordinators throughout the state, the experts we work with, the people every aspect of this is, about working to try and help people do what they already want to do.
[00:43:40] And just enabling them to do it, and it turns out to be a really cool thing. We were concerned about a lot of stuff. But I think I did the numbers this past weekend. And we’re somewhere around 300 and almost 350,000 of these little pop-top things have come back. So it becomes interesting. It became an interesting sort of scenario where the people actually, yeah, they a hundred percent do bring this stuff back.
[00:44:10] And they 100% do not want to necessarily negatively impact their environment. And so we just enable them to do it and say, “All right, go for it. You do that, I’ll do this–we’ll ship it over there. And as a community, we’ll get it done.” Each one, every person that’s involved in this team, every dispensary every, person bringing it back has got to do a little bit of the work, and they all pick up just a little bit.
[00:44:43] And eventually you get to recycle that–that same amount or whatever the amount is, the 350,000 pop-tops, it’s just an incredible amount of. Of work people are doing
[00:45:00] to just try and do the right thing. And that gives you this really good feedback loop, right? It’s ah, wow.
[00:45:08] I think one person had asked at one point, why what’s the difference between recycling cannabis containers and other containers? And there’s no difference. It’s just number five plastic. The difference that I think I told them was it smells better.
What’s your outlook on recycling in the Maryland cannabis industry? Especially compared to recycling in states like Delaware and Virginia?
[00:45:24] Kevin, Peake ReLeaf: Is there anything that you particularly looking forward to in regards to how the cannabis industry here evolves with that. [So,] more sustainable packaging, more using those plastics, more dispensary participation, are there other things that you’re like, “This is what I want to see in the future relative to what High 5 is doing.”
[00:45:45] Phil Ash, Executive Director of The High 5 Initiative: Yeah. In the local industry, what I would really like to see, so there are different obstacles for this industry in every single state and it’s a very unusual business kind of scenario. So you can’t really gain economies of scale for a solution, if you were an MSO or something like that, you could, they use different packaging in every state.
[00:46:09] And have different obstacles in every state. So what you can do in Oregon, you can’t do here yet. So what I’m, actually super excited to, start to see some reuse, or a return kind of program. There’s currently an obstacle. The NMCC is the obstacle, but we’re, I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to develop another pilot program that enables dispensaries and growers and whomever to actually reuse or return and reuse that packaging, the recycling isn’t going to get at all.
[00:46:51] We’re a very small thing. And in general all the materials for doing. You can recycle even in a single stream or any of that stuff, the best you’re going to get is about 9%. So if you produce a million, you’re only going to get 9% of that caught in the recycling thing, if you’re really good.
[00:47:13] So you need other options to try and mitigate or minimize those things. Reuse is a great one. There are other ones, people talk about a lot of greenwash stuff like bioplastics and stuff like that. They’re not there yet. They do the exact same thing. If you get bioplastics in Maryland, you cannot do anything with it.
[00:47:35] Most of the glass in Maryland… Luckily, right now we’re starting to see recycling coordinators be able to do something with glass, but when we started you couldn’t recycle glass at all in Maryland. Yeah, I know. They’ll tell you, you can, but you actually can’t, they don’t have a path forward. They don’t have a buyer.
[00:47:54] Normally the way that we were lucky, my county just got recycling needed to deal with Delaware. They’re in the lower counties, there’s a little bit of more of an option because Virginia has glass factories. But they use it generally for alternative daily cover on the landfills.
[00:48:16] So they’ll break down the glass and apply it over top of the landfill. So the stuff doesn’t fly off into the water. That’s an alternative daily cover is that recycling? No, it’s reusing, but it’s different. It’s not necessarily what you think it is. So it’s, different way, but it doesn’t actually capture it.
[00:48:40] You can wash your dish. It seems very, it turns out statistically, if you do a reuse program, like if, you reuse something, once you prevent 71 of the same things from being produced upstream. So you don’t, you’re just blocking things from actually having to be produced to be caught at the end. And it seems like a simple thing it’s not perfect, there’s lots of different ways to do it and whatever, but you never know until you try this was, recycling is, the NMCC calling BS on me and saying, I couldn’t do it or saying we couldn’t do it saying that, it wasn’t a need.
[00:49:24] It is a need. The cannabis industry is produced somewhere around, just in flour here locally in Maryland, just in. I think the last number I got was somewhere around 726,000 pounds of pop tops. That’s crazy.
[00:49:42] So I’m excited to see that a lot of people are like, “Why do you recycle cannabis stuff?” It’s because it’s too small. You have to do this because the stuff is too small. It’s not because there’s weed in it.
[00:49:55] The patients, the people that work in it, who don’t want to do that have the ability to make a difference and make a change and actually lead in. In this scenario, I think they have the right motivation to do it. They inherently come in and are more environmentally friendly than other people, more conscious of their role in the greater in nature that they’re not different from nature.
[00:50:25] They’re part of it. And that openness allows people to try different things. You don’t have to be right. You just have to friggin’ try and eventually something will happen. That’s really good. There’s lots of reasons to, to just wash a dish Yeah, it just makes sense, right?
[00:50:49] Yeah. The recycling stuff drives me nuts because it’s like, all right. If I had a dish, if I was the life of the dish, and instead of washing my dish, I throw it in a special bin that I hoped someday somebody would separate those materials, grinded down, and make me a new dish. And then I was going to go find it at the local store.
[00:51:11] Kevin: And you’re right. It just seems like such a, given like you, a patient would go to a dispensary, you get an eighth of MK Ultra or whatever. And they’re like, I’ll probably get this strain again. I like this flower. I like this bud.
[00:51:25] I’m just going to, when I’m done with this, I’m just going to Washington or go back to the dispensary and get some more sticks. Use the same container. And it’s like a patient has never been adversity. The idea of any of this. And I think even in talking with patients and talking about what you guys are doing, it’s never been, we don’t want to do it.
[00:51:44] It was just not knowing how much waste was produced and they had the opportunity to do something about that. So I’m hopeful, like you are, that reuse will be an option at some point. It just makes sense
[00:51:57] Phil: At the end of the day, I’m very proud of the local cannabis community for doing something like this, just giving it a shot and trying it and, being, they do really well. Peake ReLeaf does, has that been outside and they, each one does it a little bit different, but the patients pick it right up.
[00:52:24] And there’s no, it’s so easy that they don’t have any kind of thought about it. I just do this thing. I drop off and stuff. No big deal. That’s awesome. And it’s supposed to give you that High 5.
What’s your perspective on medical cannabis patients and their relationship with recycling? And how would you rate our dispensary’s involvement?
[00:52:36] Kevin: Yeah. And it’s one of the things that I think surprises people. And talking about, having been out there and trying to make sure that patients get engaged and involved with that is that they really think patients need to feel an additional level of incentive to participate in something like this.
[00:52:56] And by and large patients just really need to be made aware that it’s an option. And that’s enough of an incentive for them to say, oh, I can do something better than I was doing before with this. It doesn’t really cost me anything to do. I’m going to be coming back to the dispenser. Anyway, during my trip, let me just bring these empty containers.
[00:53:15] And now I’m participating in something that is improving my community. It doesn’t have to be a huge grand gesture for somebody to feel like they’re a part of something that’s doing well.
[00:53:27] Phil: Yeah, exactly that. They wanted to do something with it. They wanted to do something that they wanted the opportunity to do the right thing with whatever that might’ve been.
[00:53:40] And you guys are doing that. You give them the opportunity to drop her off that little change between I drop it off in my trash and I drop it over here, gives them enough of a positive feedback that they know they’re doing the right thing. And I, it is cool, it’s a cool thing to see, but you’re a hundred percent, some people don’t need it, they don’t need that extra. It’s just giving them opening the door and they’re like, okay, that’s the path I’m supposed to walk. Okay. I’ll walk that path. And then they do, and they’re like, that’s dope. I like that. It’s pretty, you can make it fun, it’s even better.
[00:54:19] So yeah, I think that’s the best part for me is, when people get excited and they understand. All right, I’m doing this next thing. When we do cleanups, it’s the same idea. It’s about feedback loops for the patient or not the patient the, volunteer, that’s, all the patients are in this.
[00:54:43] They’re volunteering to do the right thing. So it’s about removing obstacles and allowing people to do the things that they want to do. And then at the end our biggest goal is that we enable somebody to exercise or activate or [00:55:00] express It’s just an innate value. It’s called environmental stewardship.
[00:55:09] It’s a value. And it means that you’re tied into nature and you understand not nature necessarily, but you understand that you are nature, that it’s not separate. It’s not an us versus them thing. There is no such thing instead you’re a part of that. And part of being a part of something.
[00:55:28] Is maintaining it and caring for it. And a lot of times we find that people don’t even know that they’re part of nature, or they don’t know that they can do these things, and they don’t know why. But to enable them, they know that they don’t like this one thing though. Maybe not. That’s beautiful, but I don’t like to trash them or something.
[00:55:51] Kevin: Yeah. That’s definitely something that we’ve seen even with some of the cleanups that we’ve done. People, when they’re able to see that immediate friends that they’ve made, it’s “Oh, I didn’t realize it was just this simple, where I could be out here with you all for an afternoon and see a very tangible difference in how this park looks or how this area looks or how my community looks up, whatever you guys do.”
[00:56:15] And I’ll come back out. It’s just, it really just starts with that re that really small realization though. I didn’t realize I could make this much of an immediate impact just by spending an afternoon picking up some trash. I really appreciate you taking the time today, man. We had a really good conversation and I really feel like the more patients have an understanding of that.
[00:56:39] Small action, leading to a much larger impact. The more they’ll be incentivized to participate in it, because I know we still have some patients that aren’t as immediately familiar with how big a difference this can make.
So I appreciate you sitting with me and taking the time to explain what High 5 does and why we love working with you all and why your organization is so important, man.
[00:57:04] Phil: I appreciate that very much. Yeah, it’s just about, yeah. It’s about community and enabling them to do what they want to do the right things.