Hemp Fabric to Hemp Plastic, Is Hemp Really Able to do All of This?
Hemp fabric, hemp medicine, hemp paper, hemp rope, hemp protein, hemp toilet paper, hemp for soil remediation, hemp instead of synthetic plastics, hemp concrete, hemp for president. Can hemp really do all of this?
Few materials are as knee-deep in the culture of ‘pie-in-the-sky’ wish fulfillment than hemp. The mostly outlawed plant, grown by the Father of Our Country, comes with a lot of promises, from reforming our medical and drug laws to saving the entire planet from imminent environmental destruction. One strong-fibered product at a time.
But, while the notion of hemp replacing nearly everything from cotton T-shirts to paper towels may sound like ‘overreaching’, there is good evidence that legalized hemp could actually be a miracle replacement for many of today’s everyday amenities.
Take toilet paper, for example. The average American goes through 50 pounds of the stuff every year. That works out to roughly 100 rolls of TP per person per year, or 57 squares a day. Considering the number of trees that are needed to manufacture that much Charmin, replacing traditionally toilet paper with an equally effective product made from hemp would drastically cut down on deforestation.
The environmental boost comes thanks to hemp’s incredibly fast maturation rate. Within just 70 days, it can reach its full potential for use. That’s significantly less time than the 20-80 years it takes to grow a tree. Hemp also has more useable parts than trees do. Trees are made of 30 percent cellulose, which is the usable part — the material that eventually becomes paper. The other 70 percent has to be removed through a chemical process. In contrast, hemp can be made up of nearly 85 percent cellulose. So the bang for the buck is much greater on the hemp side. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates than one acre of hemp can produce four times more paper than an acre of trees.
And that’s only the raw material cost savings to the environment. Pulp and paper mills are notorious air, water, and land polluters. Combine that with the long maturation rate of trees, and the consumption of material from South American tree farms, and you see switching to a more eco-friendly product can produce big changes.
A side note: the first commercially sold toilet paper actually was made out of hemp. It was produced by Joseph Gayetty in 1857, and consisted of sheets of hemp soaked in aloe to make the experience more pleasant. Before Gayetty, people would use wool, lace, seaweed, leaves, etc. — anything that might work to do the deed. It was the Scott brothers, however, who made toilet paper — from trees — a household commodity in 1867 by charging very little for the product (although it often contained splinters – ouch!)
All jokes aside, there are many uses for hemp that go beyond toilet paper. Today, hemp is making a comeback across all sorts of specialty paper and pulp products thanks to modern bio-refining techniques and relaxed regulations. And it doesn’t stop there.
Hemp has proven to be a particularly impressive fabric base, now used in everything from socks to hats. It’s antimicrobial properties make it great, not only for hemp fabric, but also as a base for soap.
Hemp has become a meaningful piece of composite plastic for high-end auto makers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. Using natural and durable products like hemp for interior door paneling, dashboards, and interior upholstery makes the cars lighter (read: more fuel efficient) and wins points with environmentalists.
And let’s not forget the food! Walk down the health food aisle at any large grocery chain today and you’ll likely see a dozen food products loudly touting their hemp connection. Thanks to a nutritional makeup that is high in Omega 3, 46, and 9, and chocked full of antioxidants and essential nutrients, hemp-based products have been added to the “super food” category. These cater both to the health-conscious and the environmentally-aware crowds at once.
And while it builds bodies, hemp is just as adept at building cities. The new trend toward sustainable architecture relies heavily on industrial hemp fiber to replace the wood and petroleum-based products that were previously used in construction. Using hemp means a more resource-efficient allocation of material for construction, renovation, maintenance and demolition. Not only is hemp better for the environment and easier to maintain, it leaves behind less pollution and non-biodegradable material if the structure needs to be razed or replaced.
And, speaking of the environment, hemp is an excellent way for farmers to remove heavy metals from their soil while adding back valuable nutrients. Through this process, called remediation, growers can turn previously unusable dirt into rich, fertile soil. Hemp can even remove radioactive waste from contaminated soil.
It’s cheap, it’s durable, it’s biodegradable — and that’s all outside of its medicinal uses. If hemp isn’t the panacea, it’s darn close.