Hemp is one of the oldest crops in the world. It’s also one of the most versatile. Evidence that it was one of the earliest plants that were cultivated for human use, coupled with the fact that it’s easy to grow, means that it could change the world that we live in today. There is no denying that our planet is in a complete mess. From industrial-scale contamination, destruction of the rainforests and mass farming techniques, to the out of control consumerism that has wreaked havoc on this place we call home, we are on the verge of an environmental disaster. But could hemp be our saving grace?
The use of hemp across history and throughout the globe has included clothing, toiletries, food sources, textiles, cleaning products, dietary supplements, medical uses, building materials, and spiritual uses. The hemp plant has significant potential to further sustainability ventures because of its low impact on the environment. It requires fewer amounts of herbicides and pesticides when grown on a large scale in comparison to crops such as wheat and cotton. Even more impressive, hemp can be used to make biofuel and build the jets and cars that utilize it.
Need a little more convincing? Think about this: Hemp cleans the air of carbon emissions by trapping the carbons inside the plant at a rapid rate. Also, it’s possible to stop deforestation by using hemp as building materials and paper, and best of all, hemp is super healthy for the earth. It can grow in all sorts of soil conditions and then takes the soil and increases its microbial content. But, there’s even more to hemp; let’s explore how this plant can save the planet.
Prevent deforestation: Hemp can replace timber
Hemp could potentially replace pretty much anything that is made from timber. Hemp is an incredibly valuable natural resource that is very underutilized. As one of the strongest fibers on the planet, using hemp for construction purposes will result in lighter and stronger wood products. Hemp is also able to hold nails better, and particle boards that are made of hemp are typically twice as strong as wood. Furthermore, just 1 acre of hemp will produce cellulose fiber pulp that is equal to 4 acres of trees, which means that hemp could quite easily and efficiently replace the majority of items that are made of wood.
Historically speaking, hemp was used to create many different products. In fact, the word “canvas” was derived from a Dutch word that means cannabis, which effectively means that real canvas was derived from hemp. Thousands of years ago, this magic plant was used to make all different kinds of commercial products such as textiles, rope, canvas, and paper.
There is a lot of potential for using hemp to prevent deforestation, promote sustainability, and save the lives of animals, and humans. The use of hemp gives us the opportunity to save natural resources, ensuring that we leave something behind for future generations. While it takes only around four months for hemp to be ready for commercial harvest, it takes trees between 20 to 50 years. Deforestation is increasing globally at a frightening rate. Researchers believe that the rate of deforestation is equal to the loss of 48 football fields every minute. It’s estimated that within a hundred years there will be no rainforests. This is one of the reasons that hemp is so valuable – it can replace trees as a source of raw material for paper and wood.
Hemp vs. plastic
Every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists in the world today. Plastic typically takes between 500 and 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill – water bottles take 450 years, fishing nets 600 years, and bags about 20 years. All of these products could end up in the ocean, harming marine life, and even our lives. Sahera Kaplan once stated that by 2050 there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
But, there is hope. Instead of using these plastic products that are destroying our planet, we could use hemp plastic products. Hemp is the greatest cellulose producer on earth, and it’s biodegradable. Hemp can form part of a biocomposite plastic whereby it’s either part of a totally organic mix or is mixed with a synthetic polymer. Studies have found hemp-based plastics to be 2.5 times stronger and five times stiffer than traditional plastic that is made from polypropylene.
It’s no surprise then that close to 100 years after Henry Ford made his first hemp car, many companies in the automobile industry are making use of hemp plastic. This car, made of hemp, was lighter than steel but could withstand ten times the impact without denting – impressive, right? Other products being made of hemp plastic include sunglasses, dog toys, and plastic bags.
Hemp can feed the world
There are around 795 million people globally that are undernourished. In developing countries, 30 out of every 100 children will experience stunted growth because of lack of nutrition. But hemp could change all of this. Not only is it inexpensive, but it can be grown just about anywhere. Believe it or not, hemp seeds are thought to be the most nutritionally dense food source on the planet. Hemp seeds are a complete protein and provide the body with vitamins, amino acids, and much more.
Furthermore, hemp seeds could produce two of our most vital food products – flour and oil. They can also be eaten raw and added to routine meals, such as granola or cereals. Hemp seeds are very high in the natural oils that are required for good brain function and development, and they are safer than alternative choices such as fish, which could contain mercury and radiation. It is about time we return to our roots and realize the nutritional value of hemp.
Hemp building materials
Although it seems unlikely that entire houses can be built from hemp, it has become a reality thanks to hempcrete, which is a more sustainable alternative to concrete. Made from water, lime, and – of course – hemp, hempcrete has a negative carbon footprint, which means that more CO2 is absorbed by the hemp plant during cultivation that would be emitted during construction. Even more impressive, walls that are made of hempcrete will continue to absorb carbon dioxide throughout their lifetime. Essentially, this is a building material that just keeps giving back to the environment.
Growing hemp prevents pesticide pollution
Unlike flax or cotton – which have been estimated to consume 50% of all pesticides – hemp is naturally resistant to pests. This means that growing hemp doesn’t require any herbicides or pesticides.
When pesticides are sprayed onto the land, they can easily make their way into water sources such as oceans, rivers, or ponds. If pesticides contaminate the water, they could easily harm the living creatures in that water or anyone who ingests it. Even scarier, pesticides have been linked to birth defects, ADHD, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few diseases. So pesticides aren’t only dangerous to the environment, but are also hazardous to our health.
Hemp as a soil decontaminant
One of the most impressive qualities of hemp is that it clean up pollution. So while our modern industries pollute, hemp has the opposite effect. Hemp has the potential to remove radioactive toxins and heavy metals from polluted soil. This is done through a process known as phytoremediation, whereby contaminants are absorbed through the fast-growing roots of the hemp plant that stores or sometimes even transforms toxins into other harmless substances.
An Italian study that was published in Plant and Soil in 2003 found that hemp had the ability to absorb nickel, chromium, and cadmium from soil, and also that high concentrations of the heavy metals had a very little effect on plant morphology. Hemp can grow in a variety of soil types and terrains. It forms deep roots which help to hold the soil together, which also helps to prevent soil erosion.
Hemp also increases the microbial contents of the soil, and its leaves and stems are rich in nutrients. After harvesting has taken place, these can be returned to the soil which will rejuvenate it for a richer yield the following year.
It’s time that hemp regained its place as of the most sustainable and versatile crops on the planet. As Jack Herer is famously quoted, “I’m not sure that hemp will save the planet… but I know it’s the only thing that can.” It’s time we let the hemp revolution take place if we really want to change the world that we currently live in.