Plastic is an indispensable component of our daily lives, so why is nearly all of it still created from toxic, non-renewable petrochemicals? Could hemp be used to replace plastic made from fossil fuels?
You may have heard that agricultural hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of cannabis (often known as marijuana), has a plethora of possible applications ranging from clothes to paper.
Given that almost all climate experts agree that we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and that hemp may even clean the soil, it’s odd that this wonder crop isn’t more widely used.
When we looked into it, we discovered that hemp is already being used in certain ubiquitous products, such as vehicles, and that it might soon be used in others.
However, there are still limitations that make hemp polymers more costly and less adaptable for the time being.
Continue reading to discover more about the future of hemp plastic,
How Does Plastic harm the Environment?
Not only are the negative impacts of global warming becoming more apparent, but traditional plastics remain in the environment and can even infiltrate the food chain, endangering human and animal health.
Researchers from the University of Tasmania and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds discovered 38 million pieces of plastic debris on Henderson Island, an isolated coral island in the South Pacific, in one particularly distressing recent example.
The seas are in a similar, if not worse, position as a result of the threat of microplastics, or microscopic bits of plastic that pollute the waterways and are frequently consumed by marine life.
According to a 2014 National Geographic research, the iconic “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is mostly made up of millions of these small particles – as many as 1.9 million per square mile.
Hemp Cellulose Fibers in a Nutshell?
Some of the first plastics were created from cellulose fibres derived from non-petroleum-based organic sources.
Hemp cellulose may be harvested and utilized to manufacture cellophane, rayon, celluloid, and a variety of related polymers.
Hemp is known to have around 65-70 percent cellulose and is regarded as a decent source (wood has approximately 40 percent, flax 65-75 percent, and cotton up to 90 percent) that holds great potential due to its relative sustainability and minimal environmental effect.
While 100% hemp-based plastic is still uncommon, certain “composite bioplastics” — polymers created from a mix of hemp and other plant sources — are now in use.
These polymers are presently employed in the building of vehicles, boats, and even musical instruments because of their great strength and stiffness.
The Current Situation Of Bioplastics
Many plastic goods are created from polymer resins, such as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which may be found in common items such as plastic bottles. While supporters expect to see 100 percent hemp-based plastic bottles on grocery shelves someday, the technology is just not ready for prime time.
Companies such as Coca-Cola have experimented with 100% plant-based bottles, but commercially marketed goods include no more than 30% plant-based materials, with the remaining derived from traditional fossil fuel sources.
The good news is that several firms are substantially investing in research to find alternatives to standard PET. The first business to develop a successful commercial product is likely to earn millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, even plastic that has been specifically intended to be biodegradable may be a cause of pollution.
In a landfill, almost nothing biodegrades, and hemp microplastics may still cause issues if put into the seas.
Biodegradable plastics must be delivered to commercial composting facilities for proper disposal, which are not available to everyone.
In addition to developing better plastic alternatives, we will need to foster more responsible attitudes toward disposable items.
Uncanny Barriers To The Livelihood OF Hemp Plastic
While subsidies keep fossil fuel costs low, hemp goods, for the most part, remain expensive luxury commodities. After several years of study into hemp cultivation, the United States legalized hemp in 2018.
However, decades of drug prohibition have resulted in a significant shortage of infrastructure required to produce and turn hemp into plastic.
Though hemp uses fewer pesticides and has a lower environmental impact than many other crops, it is still labor-demanding to cultivate and harvest.
Another disadvantage is that hemp requires “major fertilizer on some soils, as well as somewhat high water requirements,” as Seshata points out.
However, as hemp farming grows from coast to coast, hemp prices will fall and technology will improve.
Currently, the majority of hemp farmed in the United States is grown for CBD, but more and more farmers are experimenting with alternative types that may be harvested more readily for their fibre content.