Widely used weed tech raising red flags for surprising reason

cobalt in cannabis

The cannabis industry is developing every moment, making it hard to keep up with every thread. For example, many are shocked to hear that not all cannabis flowers are vegan, and that’s not the only surprise. Components of almost all popular rechargeable vape devices may contain minerals mined by people (and children) in life-threatening conditions.

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Lithium-ion batteries changed the world of technology since the first commercial version hit the wire in 1991. At that point, the possibilities enthralled people, but 30 years later, awareness is growing around the minerals used in their production.

These batteries last a long time and can be recharged again and again for upwards of 15 years without losing too much function. That makes them more than attractive for portable weed devices and countless other items that most people use daily. Lithium-ion batteries power most cell phones, wireless headphones, laptops, and electric cars, among other things. Humans have found lithium-ion batteries more than useful, but they have downsides.

The trouble with cobalt in cannabis

If these batteries get too hot, it can cause a thermal runaway, triggering a chain reaction that starts a fire. It is pretty concerning but not the biggest worry at the moment. The imminent concern is the supply chain of raw materials used to make the little miracles. Lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, and manganese are a few of the raw materials at work in one rechargeable unit. At the moment, the focus is on cobalt.

Multiple African countries are home to cobalt mines, but people are directing concern toward operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Eyes are on Congo cobalt mines for many reasons, and they go beyond how the mines themselves have devastated the surrounding DRC land. It’s also harming the people.

Conditions in the mines are fair at best, with harmful dust always floating through the air and many water sources in the region contaminated by waste created by the mining industry. Additionally, children as young as seven and young mothers with babies strapped to their backs are working the mines with pick axes or even their bare hands–all while cobalt is known as toxic to breathe and touch.

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Meanwhile, the process is devastating to the environment. Mining requires large amounts of water and energy, and the resulting pollution makes surrounding areas unlivable. There are efforts to change this reality, but the inhumane, wasteful supply chain is unceasing for now.

A solution requires teamwork

Tossing lithium-ion batteries out the window isn’t the solution. Too many people and operations rely on this technology. Instead of thinking in black and white, experts suggest a conscious shift in the supply chain and a total divestment from human rights-violating mines.

Apple and other large brands have yet to seek alternative minerals, though the tech giant states they only use humanely mined cobalt. But there are weed brands on the job. In the vape world, PAX wants to find battery alternatives that won’t be cost-prohibitive, but there’s not much talk of this problem in space.

Since the solution is multi-pronged, a conversation must spread into more weed circles before consumers can drive change. After all, a dollar is a vote for the kinds of brands a consumer hopes to see in their cannabis industry–make every coin count. While divestment from cobalt requires cooperation from stakeholders, they read consumer messages in dollar bills.

Cannabis may not be vegan, and vapes may run on minerals that are harming the planet and even its people. Reading the labels and researching ingredients isn’t just for the grocery aisle anymore. It is time to learn what makes up the products used every day.

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.