Hemp has been widely used for its medicinal, non-mind-altering CBD products, and has been historically used for making rope. But did you know that hemp fibers can also be used industrially to help our planet’s environmental issues?
Hemp fibers are found on the long stalk of the hemp plant and they are valued for their strength, durability, and antimicrobial and anti-mildew properties. These parts of the hemp plant are not for medical or recreational cannabis use and are instead used for many industrial purposes.
For one, hemp is being recognized as a possible solution to the global plastic crisis we are facing.
The conventional plastics we use linger in the environment and can cause a detrimental effect on our health as well as the health of other animals. Recently, researchers from the University of Tasmania and the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found 38 million pieces of plastic waste on Henderson Island, an uninhabited coral island in the South Pacific. And that’s just one of the many uninhabited natural environments that are harmed by plastic pollution. This really gives us an idea of just how far-reaching and destructive our daily usage of plastic can be.
Unlike many plastics that are made from polymer resins, which are found in everyday products like water bottles, plastics made from hemp are biodegradable and non-toxic for the environment. Companies like Earth Renewable Technologies use milled hemp fibers as a cellulose stock to create bioplastic hemp pellets that are melted into injection molds to create consumer goods like plastic bottles, containers, housewares, and 3D printing plastic stock.
Even with the successes we are seeing with bioplastics and nano CBD made of hemp, this still isn’t the solve-all-our-problems solution because much of decreasing the pollution also has to do with the way we dispose of these products. Even these biodegradable materials don’t all biodegrade in landfills and, although at a smaller scale, they can still be a problem when introduced to oceans. Sending the biodegradable hemp plastics to composting facilities for efficient disposal would greatly decrease the amount of plastic pollution. But these facilities are not available to everyone, so in addition to better plastic alternatives, we’ll really need to develop a more responsible attitude towards the best way to dispose of these products.
On another note, ever heard the popular enigmatic phrase, “Save the trees?” Only a few hundred times? Well, hemp fiber has proven to be able to do just that.
We need trees for a variety of reasons, some of the most important ones being to preserve wildlife and to slow the pace of climate changes like global warming. Trees absorb the heat-trapping greenhouse gases that human activities emit. So the more trees there are, the less greenhouse gases will enter the atmosphere, reducing climate change. But trees still keep getting cut down and depleted for our needs, along with being burned down by wildfires. According to the World Bank, the world lost 502,000 square miles of forest between 1990 and 2016—that’s equivalent to an area larger than South Africa.
So how can the use of hemp fiber remedy this?
Hemp can be used to make paper more efficiently. Hemp plants grow quickly and are relatively easier to sustain. While it can take several decades for trees to grow enough to be harvested for paper, hemp can be cultivated within 100 days. It is also easier to recycle.
The long fibers of hemp also mean that items made out of hemp will be stronger and lighter than wood products. Items that are made out of hemp, such as particle board, can be twice as strong as wood. Another major benefit is that just one acre of hemp can produce cellulose fiber pulp equal to that of four acres of trees, so hemp can effectively replace most items made of wood, and actually save trees in the process.
Hemp has also been used successfully as an alternative bio fuel. It fuels conventional diesel engines, and has been shown to release much less carbon into the atmosphere. Another plus against global warming.
You may be reading this wondering why hemp and its benefits aren't more commonly known and used.
A large part of it is the stigma on hemp that has pervaded over the years up until very recently. Even though the hemp plant contains little to no THC, many people still equate it to marijuana. The celebrity Michael J. Fox uses the CBD to help his Parkinson’s disease. Industrial use of hemp was legalized only last year, so that means we are still lacking much of the infrastructure needed to grow and process hemp. After decades of hemp's prohibition, it's time we look forward to the future and acknowledge the benefits switching to hemp may bring to everyone around us.