Hemp plastic, an alternative to plastic resin
In 2021, it is an understatement to say that plastic is not an environmentally sustainable material. And it is unfortunately too obvious that most recyclable plastic, that remains unchanged for 500 to 1000 years, ends up on landfills and in the sea (5 trillion tons of plastic and microplastic in our oceans reported by National Geographic in 2020).
There is a will to make all those plastics and microplastics disappear, but the well-functioning existing infrastructure is just made to keep producing plastic. The machinery is set and fossil fuel costs are kept low with subsidies so plastic -far from fantastic- is actually just too cheap and easy.
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Plastic is still too convenient and we don’t seem to be ready to let go. But the planet cries. Biodegradable plastic alternatives are the way to go! Strong and malleable materials that can disappear for good in a short time and that reduce the amount of greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emissions.
Hemp plastic is one of the bioplastics available in the market, and we are all in on this one. Hemp is one of the most efficient cellulose plants in the world.
This article will check the actual situation of hemp plastic and its viability.
Hemp plastic facts
First of all, hemp is one of the oldest crops ever domesticated. It is now estimated that hemp cultivation started about 12.000 years ago. So we know how to grow it and where to grow it. Some facts about hemp plastic are:
- Its production reduces drastically both fuel emissions and greenhouse gas, compared to standard plastics
- Hemp’s cellulose is 3.5 times stronger
- Hemp products are 5 times stiffer than carbon-based plastics, which makes hemp plastic more durable than petroleum-based plastic in accidents and thus, safer
- Hemp fiberglass costs between 50 and 70 cents per pound, in opposition to 5$ per pound of carbon-based fiberglass
- Hemp plastic is much lighter than petroleum-based plastic
- It is not toxic! This makes it safer for the environment and for us
- It can be completely biodegradable, depending on the mix which it might be made of, and it can be recycled several times
How is hemp plastic made
Hemp is one of the most efficient cellulose plants in the world. This makes it the best bioplastic source so far. It is this cellulose that composes the necessary fibers to form what we know as plastic. Crude oil plastic is also made from its cellulose.
Hemp plastic products
Hemp has widely been used as a substitute for fiberglass throughout the years on cars in the US and it is taking up in Europe as well for dashboards, panelling and final design touches. Nowadays, this fiberglass substitute is also used for the construction of music instruments, speaker systems, surfboards and even boats.
Several hemp plastic companies are already making hemp plastic bottles, hemp plastic containers, plates, bowls, pens, and even bricolage appliances. Whatever you can imagine made of plastic, is already being thought of or made in hemp plastic!
As for big companies, Coca-Cola is experimenting with plant-based bottles while LEGO is promising to stop using carbon-based plastics by 2030. This is not a guarantee that these companies will turn specifically to hemp plastic, but it is a start.
Some hemp plastic companies are:
How long does it take for hemp plastic to biodegrade?
As we commented above, plastic can take from 500 to 1000 years to decompose. Hemp bioplastic is not only recyclable, but it biodegrades within 6 months.
Can hemp replace plastic?
We have learned that hemp is both recyclable and biodegradable. With the plastic soup floating in our oceans, and the concerning greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emissions of the carbon-based plastic industry, we should already find these as reasons enough to step over to this sustainable plant.
Moreover, hemp is an efficient and opulent crop that offers a much lighter and stronger bioplastic than its carbon-based version.
However, there are three main obstacles that make regular oil-based plastic just too convenient. Namely: logistics, politics and money.
- Although hemp production is cheap and highly efficient, there is still a lack of processing plants to produce hemp materials. There is consequently a lack of logistics to ensure a large scale processing infrastructure
- The illegal status of cannabis in some countries still makes it hard for hemp to thrive
- Carbon-based pellets cost about 1$ in opposition to 1.27$ of the same amount of hemp plastic pellets
Because of these three reasons, fossil fuels are still being subsidized while hemp products are mostly considered as luxury items.
A more sustainable future
There is still a couple of human behavioural handicaps to overcome in this transition. We keep filling up our landfills and water sources with garbage. This can also happen with whatever new bioplastic we come up with. There is a need for new attitude towards trash.
On the other hand, we also need to learn new ways of consumption as mass production and mass consumption are inevitably and unnecessarily loading our planet with garbage.
Hemp has a much smaller environmental footprint than many other alternatives, it can be recycled and it is biodegradable. Bioplastics are on the rise and we are positive they are going to become part of the solution of our plastic dependence. This is a necessary step that will improve our health and our environment.
Once we change the way we deal with our garbage and build composting facilities for efficient disposal of all alternatives to plastic, we can affirm we are heading towards a more sustainable future.