Did you know that around eighteen billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean from coastal regions each year? A recent article published this year by National Geographic explored the damage plastic waste is doing to our planet and highlights some of the positive changes that places around the world are making to combat the issue.
While we have seen an enormous emphasis placed on living more eco-friendly, there is still a vast amount of work that needs to be done to combat the issue of plastic pollution. So, along with the overall reduction in things such as plastic packaging in supermarkets, what else should we be considering, and is it possible that cannabis could help?
Today, we are going to be exploring the potential for hemp as a biodegradable and natural substitute for plastic. At a time when plastic is damaging not only our environment but also our health, it seems more vital than ever to explore hemp’s role in the future of sustainable materials.
What is Plastic, And Why is it an Issue?
Plastic is one of the most ductile and affordable materials out there, which is why it is so heavily used in everything from jets to pencils and so much more. Take a look around you right now, how many plastic items can you count?
Primarily made from carbon-chained polymers, plastic can be molded into pretty much any shape, making it ideal for all kinds of uses. In the study published by the National Geographic, it revealed that around 40% of all plastic produced is used in packaging, the majority of which is designed for single use and is then discarded.
Despite a global campaign to promote multi-use containers and sensible recycling, statistics show that of the 250-300 million tonnes of plastic manufactured each year; only around 10% of plastics are recycled, with the rest ending up as litter in the environment.
The waste of plastic is not the only issue here; it is also a significant health risk to humans and animals because of the way it is made. Plastic is toxic, non-biodegradable, and chemically-made, so not only does it release harmful toxins into the air, but it takes so long to decompose that we are subjected to this toxicity for years. The average plastic bottle can take up to 450 years or more before it decomposes, with everyday plastic shopping bags taking a staggering 10-1000 years to decompose!
How Can Hemp Help with the Plastic Epidemic?
Call us crazy, but we’re not the first to mention hemp as a valid solution the world’s plastic problem! Hemp is pretty old news to many of us who are in the know about the history of the plant, as it has been used for thousands of years as a building material, clothing, food, and medicine. America consumed approximately 3000 tonnes of hemp every year before the early twentieth century when the prohibition started.
Famously, Henry Ford designed and built the first car wholly made from hemp. The only non-hemp material used was metal for the frame, and since then we have seen other incredible feats using the humble hemp plant, such as an actual working plane! As it turns out, hemp is lighter, safer and more affordable – and above all else it’s natural!
Many big names have started using hemp instead of plastic, particularly in the automobile industry with brands such as BMW, Honda, Ford and Mercedes opting for hemp composite parts for their vehicles. This is a great leap in the right direction, but why is hemp coming up as a possible contender for plastic?
To get a material which is durable and strong, one needs cellulose. All plastics are developed using cellulose, but the plastic that is most commonly used at the moment uses cellulose from petroleum. Toxic petrochemical compositions such as those used in plastic are both toxic and non-sustainable, but the good news is there are other options!
The hemp plant contains around 80% natural cellulose and creates one of the only plastics, which can be 100% biodegradable. As a plant, hemp consumes around four times more carbon monoxide from the atmosphere than any other plant, and that’s not all the plant can do!
A recent article revealed that hemp fiberglass costs around 50-70 cents per pound, compared to a hefty five dollars per pound of carbon-based fiberglass. Hemp fiberglass is also reported to be stronger, safer when damaged and lighter when compared to its metal equivalent.
What’s Stopping Us Changing from Toxic Plastic to Hemp Plastic?
With the evidence for hemp use seeming to be pretty overwhelming, what’s stopping us from making the switch? According to the 2016 World Economic Forum Report, by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by weight if our plastic use habits are to continue. So with this in mind, it seems like the move to hemp should be a no brainer, yet there are still many people in protest of it.
While it is true that changing to Hemp plastic would not solve the world’s pollution problems, it seems ludicrous to completely discount it as an option. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why hemp is not in use the world over.
The critical issue around the use of hemp is around the legalities. It has only been since the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill that companies have been allowed to legally grow, harvest and process hemp for research purposes, and it is only since then that we have seen the plant being put to good use.
Due to heavy restrictions on the plant, it is still looked upon as a luxury item due to its availability and cost. It goes without saying that if the war on drugs were lifted, the cost of hemp would dramatically lessen, but in the meantime, it does not come up as the cheapest option.
Although hemp can be produced to be 100% biodegradable, it is rare to find hemp plastic which has not been produced using composite bioplastics, using both hemp and other plant sources in its creation. It is for this reason that, although hemp plastic is more biodegradable than carbon plastic, it is unusual to find one that is 100% biodegradable.
The main issue here is that hemp plastic will usually still be disposed of in a landfill, amongst tonnes of regular plastic. It is almost impossible for anything to biodegrade in a regular landfill, and those products that were made from biodegradable hemp plastic would need to be disposed of in a commercial composting facility, of which there are limited numbers at the moment.
Final Thoughts: Is Hemp the Solution to Plastic Pollution?
Although there are plenty of details that need to be ironed out when it comes to the production of hemp plastic instead of the harmful plastic we currently are faced with, it seems that it is an obvious step in the right direction nevertheless.
With constant warnings about the future of our planet emerging, it seems the time for change has to be now – but we would love to know your thoughts down in the comments below. Are you pro-hemp for a plastic-free future?