What Makes Hemp Such a Sustainable Crop?
When you look at the environmental issues the world is facing, there are endless crises that seem unsolvable. However, there are also glimmers of hope in all areas. In more than one of those areas, hemp can be a big part of the solution.
Hemp is a versatile crop. It has served many uses for thousands of years. As a member of the Cannabis sativa family, it was pushed out of the markets as a part of the war on drugs. But as more and more people become concerned with the state of the environment, hemp is an even more attractive crop.
How Hemp Can Make an Impact
Hemp is a viable, affordable, and environmentally friendly option in all industries demanding products that can be made from hemp.
The world has no shortage of environmental challenges:
- Carbon emissions
- Water shortages
- Too much trash that won’t decompose
- Slow recycling processes
The ground, air, and water are becoming more polluted, and we’re looking for ways out. So, as a start, let’s look at how hemp can make an impact on these issues.
Carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere by a plethora of manufacturing and other industries. Some of those industries are necessary to sustain our way of life, while others could be changed. Fortunately, there are more than a few where renewable and non-polluting resources present an alternative.
Hemp, while planted, produces a net negative when it comes to carbon emissions. One acre of hemp can absorb up to 22 tonnes of carbon dioxide. In addition, hemp is a hardy crop that can be planted twice per year in many regions. Where two crop cycles can be completed, carbon dioxide can be absorbed in twice the total quantity.
Hemp doesn’t only fight carbon emissions while in the ground. Once the crop is cultivated, it can be used as a replacement for more polluting manufacturing materials. Clothing, building materials, paper, and ropes are among the products that hemp can produce. Let’s start with clothing.
The clothing industry contributes to a few of the above environmental challenges (which we’ll look into soon). When it comes to carbon emissions, hemp can reduce the need for synthetic polyester, which is one of the larger emitters. Cotton, too, produces carbon dioxide emissions, though at less than half the rate of polyester. Hemp is a cheap alternative that can be produced inexpensively.
Then there is the manufacturing of paper. Trees now bear the brunt of the paper manufacturing industry, with 93% of paper coming from trees.
Paper is a driving cause of deforestation. As plants, trees take far longer to grow than hemp, which can go through 2 crop cycles in a year under some conditions.
With the fast re-cultivation of hemp, as well as the carbon vacuum effect of growing hemp, shifting to create more paper from hemp is an obvious choice for the environment.
All crops require water, but some require far more than others. While we’re talking about cotton, we should point out that water is where cotton performs the most poorly. Cotton requires heavy irrigation, while hemp does not. Cotton is known to deplete local freshwater sources with its irrigation needs.
There are a few ways that hemp can fill a role where a more polluting material would normally be used.
Clothing is one of the areas where, again, hemp is the clear environmentally friendly choice. Hemp is 100% renewable, reusable, and decomposable. Hemp clothing does not need to contribute to the trash crisis. It also lasts a long time and ages relatively well, making it take longer before you even need to worry about recycling it.
Hemp can be used to make renewable shoes, paper, building materials, ropes, and cords. Like other plant-based ropes, hemp ropes are completely renewable.
In the end, when you can replace another material with hemp, hemp will produce far less waste. At worst, it will match the waste produced, such as with other plant-based ropes.
Examples of Industry’s Implementing Hemp for Sustainability Purposes
On top of the above uses, there are plenty of examples of businesses using hemp for sustainability.
Extreme Biodiesel’s Fuel
Hemp can be used in the production of fuels. The crop can replace cellulosic ethanol as a raw material for biofuel. This allows it to replace fossil fuels and equally polluting corn-based ethanol.
While it isn’t pollution-free, hemp produces a fuel with a carbon footprint much closer to neutral. It’s also a more sustainable, long-term solution.
Extreme Biodiesel took note years ago and in 2014 began farming its own hemp.
Environmentally Friendly Plastic
No one associates plastics with environmental friendliness, and for good reason. The synthetic polymers typically used in plastics are not decomposable at any rate we can afford to wait for. A plastic bottle can take 450 years to decompose in a landfill.
While we hate plastic’s environmental effects, we have to admit that we have a love-hate relationship with it. It’s a durable material with limitless utility. So, what can we do?
Hemp is being put to use with other recycled fibres to make a new kind of plastic. This kind of plastic is completely renewable and is being put to use by companies inside and outside of the cannabis industry.
Challenges and Barriers—The Road Forward
Two main factors continue to hold back hemp research and practical applications:
- The war on drugs
If you’ve found yourself asking questions like, “If hemp can make 100% renewable plastic, why the hell isn’t it everywhere already?” you’re not alone.
Hemp cultivation was only legalized in the US in 2018. While hemp isn’t marijuana, the association between the two has been slow to be reconciled politically. It’s also a global issue, not just an American one.
Going forward, the legacy of the global war on drugs (marijuana, specifically) will likely take time to change. However, many countries around the world have been easing restrictions on hemp, specifically. But it’s a heavily regulated industry in most of those countries, and one that’s been less well-researched before recent years.
As a crop, hemp needs relatively few pesticides and has a lower overall environmental impact. However, it does still require significant amounts of water as well as:
- A lot of fertilizer in some soils
- Intensive labour
Despite these challenges, hemp offers solutions to several unique and significant other challenges. With hemp becoming more legal and more well-researched worldwide, perhaps these roadblocks will be quickly lifted going forward.