The recent legalization of hemp in the United States has given new life to a plant that has been used across civilizations for millennia.
Hemp is one of the world’s oldest crops, with studies suggesting it was first cultivated about 10,000 years ago. Known for its wide range of industrial uses, hemp has historically been fabricated into paper, rope, and textiles. Hemp can also produce plastics, construction materials, and even be used as fuel. Most recently, however, hemp has gained notoriety as the primary source of cannabidiol extracts, or CBD.
There is no question hemp is a valuable agricultural commodity due to its multiple uses within various industries. But, did you know a transition to hemp farming could also help save the environment?
How Hemp Is Sustainable
When compared to cotton and other plants grown for industrial purposes, hemp is highly sustainable. Hemp plants grow vigorously and densely choking out any competing plants. As a result, farmers do not need to resort to herbicides full of harsh chemicals. Furthermore, industrial hemp often does not require the use of pesticides as it can naturally resist pests.
A huge factor that makes hemp a great environmentally-friendly crop is that it needs very little water to grow, especially when compared to other industrial crops. For example, it is estimated that growing cotton requires about 50 percent more water.
Another reason hemp is considered a sustainable option is that it requires a smaller amount of land to cultivate. This means hemp can produce more fiber per hectare.
5 Hemp Environmental Benefits
In addition to more sustainable cultivation practices, hemp can be used to replace many of the potentially toxic materials we use in our everyday lives like steel or wood.
If you are wondering how hemp can benefit the environment, check out these five hemp uses that can help save the planet:
1. Cultivating Hemp Prevents Deforestation
One of the biggest threats to our planet is the mass destruction of forests worldwide. Studies estimate that humans cut down about 15 billion trees every year. This has a significant impact on global warming, the extinction of species, and the chemical composition of our atmosphere.
Hemp can be a solution to our deforestation problem because of its ability to produce many of the same wood products as a tree. Hemp can be made into hemp paper, wood, building materials, and fiber. With an average harvest time of 4 months, and the potential to produce up to 4 times as much paper per acre, hemp is much more cost effective and efficient than trees.
2. Hemp-Based Plastics (Bottles/Straws)
There are currently about 7 billion tons of plastic lying around our planet, much of it concentrated in our oceans. Every day, non-degradable plastic kills innocent animals such as turtles, birds, and fish. Plastic may also contaminate the water we consume and the land on which we grow our food. The worst part is that plastic takes about 400 years to decompose, so it will just keep accumulating unless we make drastic changes soon.
While there is no easy solution to our plant’s plastic problem, we can begin implementing small changes to make a long-term impact. One change that can help solve the planet’s plastic crisis is to start using hemp as a plastic alternative. Hemp fiber can be used to produce a plastic-like material that offers the same capabilities and characteristics of synthetic plastic. In fact, many companies are now using hemp-based plastics for products like hemp bottles and hemp plastic straws.
3. Hemp Construction Materials
While it may come as a surprise, hemp can also produce a variety of alternatives that can be used as replacements for construction materials like concrete, wood, and even steel.
For instance, hempcrete which is made from hemp shivs and lime can replace concrete and drywall. Meanwhile, hemp “wood” can be used for flooring and roofing. These materials can be used in the construction of houses, cars, buildings, and more.
4. Hemp Fabrics/Clothing
Most of today’s synthetic fibers are manufactured using polymer-based petrochemical materials which are highly toxic by modern standards. Producing these materials entails an energy-intensive process that releases toxic emissions into the air, often contaminating the fabrics we use. So how can this be solved with hemp?
One of the earliest known hemp uses was fabrics and textiles because of how easily hemp fibers can be removed from the plant. Organic hemp fibers can be used to make clothing with no chemical residue. Additionally, hemp fabrics are highly durable and UV resistant.
5. Hemp Can Be Used as a Biofuel
It is no secret that fossil fuels have been harming the environment for decades. Processing petroleum and coal release harmful gases into the atmosphere like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide.
Hemp can help minimize our dependence on fossil fuels by helping produce natural fuel alternatives. In particular, hemp can be used to produce biodiesel and ethanol, two types of natural fuels that could help reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
The Future of Hemp in the U.S.
In the United States, the future of hemp is looking brighter than ever before, as evidenced by the progress made in states like Florida.
Earlier this year, the first legally certified hemp plants were delivered into the state of Florida in over 70 years. This initial delivery of 50 industrial hemp plants marked a historic moment for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (UF/IFAS) hemp pilot research program. The program was launched in 2018 via a collaboration with Green Roads who donated $1.3 million to the program.
“We’re looking to help commercialize the industry here, so that’s going to open up an avenue for farmers,” said Green Roads co-founder Arby Barroso. “It’s going to add economic growth. It’s going to add jobs.”
Like Florida, other states have also begun implementing changes to make hemp more accessible to the public. Due to this increasing interest among consumers nationwide, the hemp industry is projected to become one of the biggest U.S. markets in the next five years.