Hemp is a versatile plant with multiple uses that can replace several of our everyday items with more sustainable alternatives. Here we explore 5 hemp uses that will amaze you!
We have lived in a resource – and energy-depleting manner for so long that our planet may soon become unable to sustain future life. This hard fact has hit us only recently. The concept of sustainable living has emerged in this context, which has brought more people to become interested in resources from nature and this cannabis plant is one of them. Let’s dig deeper into all the hemp uses,
What is the difference between hemp & marijuana?
This article is about integrating hemp, or industrial hemp, into our lifestyles. This is not about the narcotic variety of cannabis aka marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species: Cannabis Sativa L. However, there is an important difference between the two in their chemical composition.
Marijuana contains high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. This is the psychoactive substance that gives marijuana its ability to cause a high in people. THC presence in hemp is limited to 0.3% or less. That is why hemp is not a narcotic.
What makes hemp sustainable?
From an anthropocentric perspective, sustainability has three major components: economic, environmental, and social. A World Bank report mentions hemp as one of the items with beneficial impacts for poverty alleviation initiatives. Real-life initiatives in China and India demonstrate how and why hemp production is beneficial for the rural economy.
A 2018 report by the US Congressional Research Service mentions that the potential market value of hemp per acre is US$12,500 for fibers and US$21,000 for seeds. Increased hemp cultivation and the development of hemp-based agro-industries can evidently revitalize the farm-based economy in the country.
Hemp as an agricultural product has a number of environmental sustainability aspects also. The sections below describe them in detail.
1. Hemp for our homes
The construction industry as it operates now is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions. Excessive carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is one of the major reasons for global warming and climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions worldwide amounted to 49.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2016.
The use of hemp composites like hempcrete and hemp-clay can make our homes sustainable for their entire lifecycle. Hempcrete is a composite of hemp hurds, lime, and water. Hemp hurds and clay make hemp-clay. Both of these materials can be used for construction and insulation of buildings.
Hemp hurds is the woody inner core of hemp stalks that remain after separating the outer layer of bust fibers. Hemp-clay is more advantageous than hempcrete as clay is far more abundant than lime. Also, the use of lime as a binder involves water use. Hemp-clay binds on its own.
Advantages of building with hemp
The thermal behavior of hemp is a major advantage in using hemp composites for the insulation and construction of buildings. Hemp retains heat, releasing it only when the atmosphere is cooler. Hemp insulation can, thus, save the non-renewable energy sources that we currently use to heat and cool our buildings.
Concrete buildings decay with time. Hempcrete buildings become more durable with time. The lime content goes through carbonation over time and turns into limestone, making hempcrete buildings last longer.
However, the most important pro-environment of hemp composites in the construction industry is their carbon-negativity. The carbon retention capacity of hempcrete compensates for all the carbon dioxide emitted in its construction process. Hemp-clay buildings have higher eco-credentials as their carbon sequestration capacity is the same, but carbon emission is less.
2. Hemp for clothing
We can radicalize our textile and fashion industries through the use of hemp yarns. The bast fibers available from the outer layer of hemp stalks have been used for human clothing for centuries. Archeologists have traced the earliest remnants of hemp cloth to about 8000 years ago.
Ancient China was known as the land of silk and hemp: silk as dress materials for the rich and hemp clothing for lesser mortals. The good news is that the market for hemp fabrics and textiles is growing. These products are more environmentally sustainable than cotton and synthetics.
Synthetic fibers used for clothing are fossil-fuel derived. They contribute to the fast depletion of fossil fuels. Remnants of synthetic fiber-based apparel are non-biodegradable and form part of the alarming plastic pollution problem. Cotton is a natural fiber, but it is a very water-intensive crop.
The other hazard of cotton cultivation is the high use of pesticides, which pollute our environment. Hemp needs about half the water of cotton and no pesticides. It is a naturally pest-resistant crop. Also, an acre of hemp produces 200-250% more fiber than an acre of cotton.
More absorbent and durable than cotton, hemp fabrics can protect us from UV rays and has better insulating qualities. After the Agriculture Improvement Act, 2018 (Farm Bill 2018) legalized hemp cultivation across the US, Levi’s had reintroduced denim trousers.
Incidentally, the legend is that the first pair of Levi’s was made with hemp fibers. The good news is that increasingly more fashion brands are moving towards hemp fabrics and textiles. This is critical as the fashion industry was responsible for 5.4% of total carbon dioxide emissions in 2015.
3. Hemp to end plastic pollution
Different types of plastic constitute a wide range of uses in our everyday living. However, the environmental costs are heavy. The plastic we currently use is derived from petroleum and harmful gasses get released into the atmosphere during its production. It is not biodegradable either.
The remnants of single-use plastic, in particular, pose a major threat against biodiversity. We currently produce nearly 300 million tons of plastic waste in a year. That is almost the total weight of the entire human population today. Only 9% of plastic waste gets recycled. About 12% is burnt.
The rest ends up in landfills and in our water bodies. Our rivers carry plastic waste to our seas and oceans. And, they kill land and aquatic animals, endangering our biodiversity. Plastic waste causes health hazards for humans as well.
The cellulose content of hemp stalks can be used to produce fully biodegradable plastic. The production process does not involve toxic emissions. Compared to conventional plastic, hemp bioplastic requires 22-45% less energy during production. Its density to weight ratio is higher than conventional plastic, making it lighter in weight.
Auto-makers across the world are increasingly using hemp bioplastic for car parts. That includes big names like BMW and Porsche. Also lesser-known companies like the Canada-based Motive Industries. An added advantage of using hemp bioplastic in cars means they will be lighter in weight. Less fuel consumption, therefore.
4. Hemp biofuel
Hemp seeds are rich in oil content and it is possible to produce both biodiesel and ethanol from the hemp plant. Hemp grows relatively easily even on soil that is not fertile enough for food crops. This plant can, thus, become a major source of renewable energy.
However, committed action from governments and industries is necessary to devote funds for research and development. Hemp biofuel can reduce our current dependence on foodplants like soy, peanuts, and olive for finding a green alternative to our current dependence on fossil fuels.
5. Hemp paper
Till the 19th century, most of the paper we used was made from hemp. The Chinese made the earliest paper from hemp. Even today, hemp fibers are used for specialty paper necessary for currency notes, cigarette paper, etc. Switching from wood-paper to hemp-paper can significantly reduce environmental costs.
The paper industry is one of the major contributors to deforestation, which contributes to environmental decay in turn. Using hemp paper would help reduce deforestation, therefore. Also, hemp grows faster than trees and can contribute to faster returns on investment to growers supplying raw materials to the paper industry.
Hemp has been one of the earliest plants to be cultivated and used by humans. In addition to everything detailed so far, hemp seeds and the cold-pressed oil derived from them have an exceptionally rich nutrient profile with a number of benefits for human health.
Hemp is also more efficient than agroforestry in converting carbon dioxide to biomass. We have in all probability cost our planet quite some damage by banning this plant of multifarious use. We did that by overlooking its non-narcotic nature and equating it with marijuana.
Now that we know better, it is critical to advocate for increased hemp use in all aspects of our life. Nature has gifted us this plant to make the planet more sustainable.