Plastic is a big part of the modern world. Literally. Plastic pollution is one of the foremost environmental challenges that is destroying our planet. It’s hard to think of a commercial product that doesn’t use it in some way and we are using more plastic bottles than ever before. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a flotilla of plastic as big as Texas and plastic has been found at the most remote and deep parts of the sea bed. The main issue with plastic is that it takes centuries to fully break down, and its presence in an ecosystem can cause untold damage for generations. Recycling is often touted as a solution but it is nowhere near as effective as reduction, and the best way to reduce the amount of plastic we use is to totally eliminate it from the supply chain.
How can we do that? Going by our history of producing the best way to do this is to make is obsolete. We need to replace plastic with a biodegradable alternative. This sustainable alternative will need to be cheap to produce and plentiful. That’s where hemp comes in.
Hemp has been used in construction for millennia. It has been used for everything from paper and rope to the sails of ships. Its fibrous nature combined with how fast and easy it is to grow makes it a veritable wonder-material. Recently there has been a boom in research into the uses of hemp, and one use stands out: Hemp plastic.
Here’s how hemp plastic can save the world.
1 Plant-Based Plastics Have A Proven Track Record
While plant-based plastics may sound like a radical idea at first, they’re actually nothing new. Some of the first plastics ever produced were made from cellulose fibres taken from organic sources. In fact, Henry Ford experimented with different natural plastics like soybeans and hemp. He used the soybean and hemp-based plastic to build car doors and fenders. He’d show off how resilient they are by hitting them with a sledgehammer
As we said, hemp is a very fibrous plant, and it is this that makes it perfect for plastic production. Hemp cellulose can be sued to make all manner of plastics, including cellophane and celluloid. It is known to contain a high proportion of cellulose, up to 70%. This combined with its easy to grow nature makes it the perfect raw material for plant-based plastics.
2 Hemp Plastic Is Easy To Recycle
Petroleum-based plastic is a scrouge because of how resilient it is and how hard it is to reuse and recycle. Hemp plastic can be broken down in less than six months, and since it’s plant-based it can be composted! It can be recycled indefinitely too, allowing a kilo of hemp plastic to stay in the supply chain far longer than conventional plastics, reducing the need to produce more.
3 Hemp Is Fast and Easy
Agriculture can be tricky, you have to have the right conditions, the right climate, the right pesticides, and it can take a long time for a plant to fully mature. Hemp, however, is a shockingly easy crop to grow. It goes from seed to full plant within 70 days and it doesn’t need much more than water. It also doesn’t need any harmful pesticides and on top of that, it actually improves the health of the soil it is grown in. The hemp plant is hardy and can be grown in a huge range of climates without any problems. This means that large-scale hemp production is very viable.
4 Hemp Plastic Is Strong and Lightweight
The term ‘biodegradable’ may trick you into thinking that hemp plastic is weaker than its petroleum-based counterpart, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Hemp plastic can be made up to five times stiffer and two and a half times stronger than traditional plastics. The longer a plastic can exist, the less of it you need to produce! Hemp plastic is also heat-resistant, making it ideal for use in the kitchen.
5 Hemp Plastic Can Actually Reduce Existing Pollution
Changing how we produce plastic is only half the battle, there is still far too much contamination in the environment already. On top of this, the same petrochemicals that are found in plastics are also a major contributor to the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere.
The good news is that hemp can be used to combat both of these issues. As hemp grows, it absorbs CO2 out of the atmosphere, converting it into oxygen. The carbon stays locked inside the hemp for as long as it exists. So if the hemp is converted into a form that lasts a long time, then that CO2 will remain safely locked away.
Another way hemp can be used to combat pollution is how it can be mixed with existing plastic to create new products. This is called ‘reclaimed plastic’ and many of the most prominent types use plastic removed from the ocean, allowing us to effectively recycle it while removing it from where it does the most harm.
6 Hemp Plastic Supports Agriculture, Not Big Oil
Because hemp is cultivated, not extracted from the earth, this lowers the cost of entry into the market considerably. This means that farmers of any scale can produce the raw materials for plastic, allowing them to outflank large fossil fuel plastics manufacturer.
7 Hemp Plastic is Non-Toxic
The fact that plastics don’t degrade for a very long time is only one of their harmful properties. They also contain endocrine disruptors, which affect the hormone system in the bodies of living creatures. When this contaminant gets into the human body, for example, it acts like estrogen, creating hormonal imbalances that can lead to cancer. Hemp plastic is non-toxic, and doesn’t contain any endocrine disruptors and doesn’t release any toxic fumes during its production. This means that this makes hemp the perfect material for catering products, children’s toys, and products for your pets too.
8 Hemp Plastic is Kind to Wild Animals
60% of seabirds are estimated to have some level of plastic in their gut, and this number is expected to rise up to 99% by 2050. Plastic breaks up into tiny pieces when exposed to sunlight, and these pieces are frequently ingested by wildlife, which has a whole host of adverse effects on their health. Hemp plastic poses a much lower threat thanks to the fact it is biodegradable and non-toxic.