In 2017, Gavin Stonehouse, a graduate student of plant biology at Colorado State University, ran a test to determine the bioremediating property of hemp.
Growing hemp plants in selenium-contaminated soil, he aimed at discovering how resilient the plants were, how much of the selenium was absorbed, and which areas the compound was stored.
As with many other experiments with the same goal, all the plants survived, and only a few (those exposed to higher doses) exhibited stress signs. This result established the phytoremediation property of hemp, a welcome addition to the several values the plant was already known to have.
HEMP: AN OVERVIEW
Hemp is hailed by many as a “wonder plant,” thanks to its estimated 25,000 different uses. For over 10,000 years, every part of the plant has been functional in some way.
But, as time went by, man lost touch with the benefits of the plant, focusing more on negative perceptions instead due to its relationship with the more psychoactive form – marijuana.
However, as modernization grew, nations reassessed their stand on the plant, favorably modifying policies to permit hemp cultivation as the race to sustainable development began.
Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Its essence is dependent on three crucial independent areas: social, economic, and environmental implications.
It assumes nature and the environment are not inexhaustible and focuses on protecting and using them rationally. It promotes social development and seeks cohesion between communities and cultures to attain a better quality of life, health, and education. It is a practice that focuses on equal economic growth for all without harming the environment.
HEMP, A SUSTAINABLE CROP
The earth is rich with many exhaustible natural resources, which for the most part, we must replace with renewable and sustainable ones if we hope to survive as a species. What can be the solution? Hemp.
The non-psychoactive plant is broadly versatile. In the words of Lawrence B. Smart, a professor at Cornell University School of Integrative Plant Science, hemp can be used “to house and clothe yourself, ” amongst others.
Hemp alleviates the need for many other mass-produced modern raw materials and can reduce the large amounts of toxins and waste produced by the oil and pharmaceutical industry.
At some point, many believed propagating hemp meant invalidating more traditional crops, like cotton. As our collective understanding and knowledge progressed, mindsets broadened, and we began seeing reasons why hemp presents a sustainable and eco-friendly benefit for all, including the traditional crops.
RESILIENT IN NATURE
Unlike cotton or flax, which are responsible for 50% of global agrochemical use, hemp requires relatively fewer amounts of these chemicals, thanks to its naturally high resilience. Its low reliance on these chemicals makes it a more sustainable option, reducing run-offs and alleviating the health risks to aquatic and landforms.
ENRICHES THE SOIL WHERE IT GROWS
Careless agricultural practices are some of the critical agents behind soil moisture and nutrient loss. Without these factors in place, the soil is exposed to degradation and pollution, too weak to support plant life, and inadequate for profitable agro-practices.
Before now, farmers relied on crop rotation to replenish lost soil nutrients. However, as modernization progressed, agriculture shifted from remediating through crop rotation to nourishing with artificial fertilizers.
As sustainable practices became the trend, farmers began seeking the crop rotation model as the best soil remediation technique, considering hemp as a vital factor for many reasons – listed below:
- Its deep roots keep the soil together to prevent soil erosion.
- It loosens up the earth to support the growth of delicate plants.
- It replenishes lost nutrients through the decomposition of its shed biomass.
- Excellent bioremediating properties to absorb heavy metals and toxins from the grow medium.
REDUCES CARBON EMISSIONS
“Numerous studies estimate that hemp is one of the best CO2-to-biomass converters,” said Shah, a senior researcher at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at Cambridge.
While several plants can sequester carbon through photosynthesis, hemp has a much higher capacity to do so. The carbon, stored up in the roots and body of the plant, is utilized in manufacturing processes to produce materials, which are mainly free of toxins, biodegradable, and renewable.
BIO-FUELS AND CARBON-NEUTRAL BUILDINGS
Researchers have found that the seeds of Cannabis Sativa, or industrial hemp, are functional in creating sustainable, viable diesel fuel. One even stated that some farmers grow enough hemp to power their entire farm.
Gasoline produced from hemp is 85% greener and 97% more efficient than petroleum-based types and is operational at way lower temperatures than other biodiesel. Categorically, the two varieties of biofuel obtainable from hemp include hemp biodiesel – from hemp seed oil and suitable for use in conventional diesel engines, and “hempanol” or
Similarly, through its green concrete alternatives, hemp presents an opportunity of producing carbon-neutral building supplies.
Hempcrete, a hemp-based composite, is energy-efficient, non-toxic, and has a relatively higher resistance to mold, insects, and fire than conventional materials. They are also highly durable, as seen in the Japanese hemp home estimated to be over 300 years old!
MAXIMIZES GROW SPACE
Multiple studies suggest that, under the right conditions, one acre of hemp will yield as much as 8.7 tonnes of fibers. Its resilient nature allows farmers to optimize land usage without compromising their yield or finances.
Though the plant prefers mild and humid conditions, it still thrives in adverse conditions and can remain productive for years. This factor presents an opportunity for local economies to grow while keeping the environment healthy.
A BETTER ALTERNATIVE TO REGULAR PLASTICS
It takes about 450 to 1,000 years for conventional plastics to decompose, and with the billions of plastics in the environment already, plastics are amongst the top environmental and health hazards.
Therefore, the need for an alternate solution to plastic is as critical as all other needs, bringing us to hemp yet again.
Hemp provides a non-toxic, biodegradable material that makes a suitable replacement for regular plastics. Since Henry Ford built the first “hemp” car from hemp composites in 1941, more industries have begun switching to these composite materials for its many benefits.
A REASONABLE END TO DEFORESTATION
Projected analyses have drawn that by 2100, at the current rate of deforestation, only 18% to 45% of the plants and animals in the global ecosystem may remain, with almost all, if not all, tropical rainforests lost.
Man has been harvesting the tropics for millennia for timber, paper, and farming, and now the earth is changing. The faster trees go, the slimmer the chances of reversing global warming and climate change.
Industrial hemp offers environmental-friendly alternatives to replace these highly-sourced materials, and unlike other crops, hemp has fewer necessities and grows faster.
FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL WARMING WITH HEMP
Hemp is among the very few plants capable of thriving almost anywhere, in any climate. Been a renewable resource, we have yet another way to fix our wrongs and preserve our world.
So, as we battle climate change, the “wonder crop” is the key to providing sustainable and healthier options to producers and consumers.