The earth is dying and can no longer be ignored. From biodiversity loss to climate change, plastic pollution bears the most blame.
Plastics are persistent pollutants in many environmental niches. From the tallest of places like Mount Everest to rock bottom of the seabeds, plastics are literally everywhere. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), up to 5 trillion plastic units are produced each year, approximately 8 million tons of which end up in the oceans.
In the United States alone, Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year, and experts estimate 93 percent of Americans above six years old test positive for BPA, a chemical in plastics linked to cancer, diabetes, and several disorders.
Everything from ocean health to food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and climate is threatened by plastic pollution. So, utilizing hemp as a substitute for regular plastics is amongst the industry’s top innovations.
AVOIDING A PLASTIC PANDEMIC
As global warming concerns increase by the day, measures promoting plastic control have been put in place in several countries. People now face jail time and more in some countries for using or selling plastic bags, and more countries like the United States, Canada, India have taken the oath to eradicate single-use plastics.
The past few months following the rise of the pandemic have seen more plastic use as they outperformed other materials in providing functional barriers against coronavirus transmission, increasing the need for bio-alternatives.
The global bioplastic market, worth $4.6 billion in 2019, is expected to rise at a CAGR of 13.8% to $13.1 billion by 2027. Supporting regulations on disposable and single-use plastics coupled with the oath taken by multinationals like Coca-cola and Nestle to adopt bioplastic materials is the reason behind the notable market growth.
Bioplastics, derivable from several renewable sources, can reduce carbon emissions by 30% -70%, compared to conventional synthetic plastics. Its cost-effective and efficient production process is among its most promising features.
HEMP PLASTICS: OVERVIEW
Environmentalists have always condemned the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. However, with the phytoremediation power of hemp, and its legalization in many countries, the world is considering hemp and its resources as a valuable alternative.
As reported in an article on hemp plastics, “Hemp cellulose can be extracted and used to make cellophane, rayon, celluloid, and a range of related plastics.” With a known mass of 65 – 70% cellulose and a promise of sustainability and eco-conservation, hemp is breaking barriers in bioplastic production and there’s more to come.
WHY HEMP PLASTICS?
Amongst the first companies to use hemp bioplastics in production is California-based cannabis packaging designer and manufacturer; Sana Packaging.
Its decision to create a packaging from 30% micronized hemp hurd instead of corn, the typical raw material for bioplastics, was due to the reasons discussed below.
According to Sana co-founder & CSO – James Eichner, hemp has many agricultural advantages over corn. He explained, “Two crops of hemp can be grown in the time it takes to grow one of corn, hemp requires around a third of the water corn does, and because it is a canopy crop, it protects the soil from sunlight and erosion – unlike corn, which leaves the soil exposed. Hemp regenerates the soil, whereas corn depletes it.”
PRODUCING HEMP PLASTICS
Petroleum has long been the go-to material in sourcing for the plastic prime constituent, cellulose. However, the need for bio alternatives has steered the world in the right direction; hemp.
Hemp plastics are easier and cheaper to manufacture than conventional plastics. Its production process is highly efficient and effective, requiring 22-45 percent less energy than fossil-fuel-based products. Also, being a recyclable and renewable material, hemp is a better long-term alternative.
Also, hazardous compounds like ENE-compounds: Toluene, Benzene are not by-products of hemp plastic productions, making these plastics less toxic, chemically independent, and generally safe.
However, several barriers have hindered the industry from progressing at a quicker pace.
WHAT IS WITH THE DELAY?
While advocates hope to someday see 100%-hemp plastic products on supermarket shelves, the technology available is just not ready to make that happen YET.
Companies like Coca-Cola have experimented with 100% plant-based bottles, but currently, other commercial products have nothing more than 30% plant-based materials due to the rising expenses associated with the production processes.
The production process itself is very cheap and efficient; however, the biggest challenge faced by the industry is the unavailability of proper infrastructures to aid the laborious cultivation process and subsequent processing stage.
This technological insufficiency is primarily due to the several decades of prohibitions placed on hemp. So, more time is needed to optimize production, distribution, and popularize solutions like hemp bioplastic.
MORE ON HEMP PLASTICS
Hemp makes a great replacement for plastic products for various reasons, some of which we have discussed. However, more pros and hurdles of this bioplastic include:
- Strength and mass: Hemp plastics are 3.5 times sturdier and 5 times stiffer than typical plastics. They are also 30% lighter than polypropylene materials; the reason behind their growing application in automobile production (the lighter, the better its fuel efficiency).
- Heat-resistant: They offer excellent thermal, UV, and dimensional stability. Some types are also flame-resistant.
- Wildlife-friendly: Conventional plastics have contributed to the death of millions of wildlife. With hemp plastics, this is alleviable since they are biodegradable and non-toxic.
- Availability: They grow prolifically and are thus renewable raw materials.
- Agricultural Imbalance: The development of the hemp plastic industry might cause a shift in agricultural cultivation from food crops production to the production of raw materials.
- Recycling facilities: While hemp plastics – composite and pure, present an alternative to traditional plastics, the waste system must adapt to make it utterly sustainable by reusing resins in production.
With the world facing the searing wrath of global warming, an alternative is needed to sustain all the resources we have mindlessly abused. Thus, while hemp is not an all-in-one solution, its possibilities in remediating the world are endless. Hemp products are the new way to save our planet, let’s embrace it!