How sustainable are CBD products?

The CBD industry is in the midst of tremendous growth. As one of the fastest-growing wellbeing product categories, its value is estimated to exceed $3bn by 2026. In the UK, the CBD market is expanding exponentially. It’s estimated to be worth £690 million ($1 billion) in 2021, making it the second-largest in the world after the US.

More and more people are turning to CBD to help ease tension, calm the mind and restore a sense of balance in their busy lives. Covid-19 has further driven demand for CBD as consumers prioritise their health and wellness. CBD’s rise in popularity reflects wider cultural trends such as the use of plant-based remedies and preventative care as part of a wellness routine.

CBD is often viewed as part of this fast-expanding ‘wellness’ market, which has become synonymous with messages of health, sustainability and all things ‘natural’. However, we must be mindful of what is now referred to as ‘greenwashing’, in which brands overstate how sustainable their products are to attract more eco-conscious consumers.

In this article, we will examine CBD as a sustainable product. This will include the varying benefits of the hemp crop, as well as some of the environmental factors involved in producing, distributing and selling CBD products.

Growing and harvesting hemp

CBD stands for Cannabidiol. A natural extract of the hemp plant that is both legal and non-intoxicating. Hemp is a highly versatile crop with a range of uses from clothing to food and medicine. The demand for CBD has undoubtedly increased hemp production. In fact, the global market for industrial hemp is expected to almost triple by 2027 to a total value of over $15bn.

Defined as a weed, hemp is considered as having an extremely low environmental impact. The four main elements of the hemp plant (the seeds, stalks, roots and leaves) can all be used in a number of ways, meaning it is often used by companies looking to reduce waste. This is one of many reasons why hemp is praised as such a sustainable crop. It is also renowned as a highly robust, hardy plant. This means that it does not require either pesticides or herbicides.

It takes up relatively little space, but the plant’s roots can grow up to 9 feet deep, enabling it to obtain vital nutrients and water from below the topsoil. This helps to preserve important minerals in the soil whilst also reducing the risk of soil erosion.

Hemp thrives in many conditions and climates, but it also grows at an exceptionally fast rate. It is estimated that hemp plants can grow up to 4 metres in 100 days, making hemp an ideal rotation crop. Crop rotation is an organic farming practice that increases biodiversity, interrupts the lifecycle and habitat of pests, and acts as a natural way to place nutrients back into the soil.

Finally, it is also the hemp plant’s rapid growth rate that makes it incredibly efficient at converting CO2 to biomass. Hemp is known for having a high CO2 absorption rate, one hectare can absorb up to 22 tonnes of CO2. It is possible to grow up to 2 crops a year which only makes the CO2 absorption faster. This is higher than any other commercial crop or forestry so many CBD brands are aiming to operate beyond carbon neutral. 

Distilling and extracting CBD

Once the hemp plant has been harvested, the next step is to extract, refine and distil the CBD oil. More often than not, the hemp plants have been specially grown so that they contain naturally high levels of CBD (and less than 0.2% THC as per EU regulations), making for a less wasteful extraction process.

CBD oil is made using a variety of techniques, but the two most environmentally-friendly methods are CO2 and solvent extraction. Both of these methods produce the highest quality CBD oil, as well as minimising waste and harmful residues.

CO2 extraction is one of the most common ways to extract CBD. This involves adding hemp to a chamber filled with carbon dioxide, which is then pressurised into a liquid so that it absorbs the hemp’s compounds and flavours. This liquid is then distilled, turning the carbon dioxide back into gas so that only the pure CBD oil is left.

While CO2 extraction is a popular extraction and safe method, it’s important to be aware that this process isn’t always alcohol-free. Material extracted with CO2 typically needs to be further refined with an alcohol solvent to create CBD isolate or distillate creating another step in the manufacturing process. Therefore, CBD brands looking to reduce their environmental impact will often choose to use liquid solvents such as isopropyl alcohol (IPA) as a simpler, sustainable and more efficient solution  This process ensures complete consistency during the extraction process and delivers clean high quality, pure CBD.

Since solvent extraction is a less complicated process, it arguably uses fewer resources than CO2 extraction, helping to reduce its overall carbon footprint. Many solvents are also
recyclable, which limits the amount of waste in the extraction process.

Selling and marketing CBD products

Broadly speaking, the cultivation and extraction of CBD is a relatively sustainable manufacturing process. However, much like any fast-growing global market, we must consider the environmental impact of getting CBD products onto shelves. For example, according to the British Retail Consortium, the UK retail sector contributes over 80% more emissions each year than all road transport. This has led many CBD retailers to adopt ‘carbon neutral’ policies, in which they outline measures to help them achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

At Grass & Co., we want to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint and become a zero-waste brand. For example, we’re committed to using only ethically sourced materials. This includes recyclable outer packaging (with materials sourced from PEFC forests), glass bottles for our CBD oil, and compostable labels made using cane fibre and plant-based inks. As well as this, for every review we receive for our range of luxury CBD products, we plant a tree in collaboration with One Tree Planted. This makes Grass & Co. an ideal destination for people looking for the best quality, sustainable CBD products.  

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