Plastic is everywhere. It’s in the smartphones in our pockets, the cars we drive, the packaging of consumer goods, and the jet planes that streak across the sky. Plastic helps the world run, but it’s also leaving a devastating impact on the environment as it piles up in landfills or finds its way into the ocean. Is hemp plastic an alternative solution that can allow us to keep enjoying plastic while protecting our planet?
What Is Hemp Plastic?
The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill in the US has raised serious interest in the many ways hemp can be used to combat climate change. Ironically, integrating hemp into some of our most used products isn’t a new concept at all. In fact, Henry Ford built a car largely from hemp in the 1940s and even experimented with hemp biofuel.
So, what exactly is hemp plastic? It is a bioplastic – a sustainable plastic created from biodegradable material – made from the cellulose of hemp plants. All plastic is derived from cellulose, including plastic made with petroleum. Hemp-based plastics can be made using the leaves, seed husks, and stems of hemp plants which are often considered byproducts for farmers growing hemp for CBD and CBG.
Industrial hemp plastic isn’t exactly like plastic made from petroleum. Hemp bioplastic is much stronger than traditional plastic, but it can also be highly flexible, allowing it to be shaped into many different things that currently rely on petroleum-based plastic.
How Is Hemp Made into Plastic?
The hemp to plastic process can vary, as there are several different ways to turn hemp into plastic. The main step in the process is to extract cellulose from the hemp plant. This can be done by pulping hemp plants and separating the cellulose using water, acid solutions, and/or heat and pressure.
The extracted cellulose can then be made into several different types of hemp bioplastic, including:
- Hemp cellulose: An organic polymer that is mainly used to make paper but can also be made into a wide range of other plastics.
- Cellophane and rayon: Classified as regenerated cellulose fibers, these fibers are used to make cellophane film, the material you put over that bowl of leftover salad, or rayon fiber which can be used in all sorts of fabrics, from sheets to curtains or even the clothes you’re wearing right now.
- Cellulose nanocrystals: Can be used in different applications, including nanopaper, barrier films, and more.
- Nanocellulose: A “pseudoplastic” that can alternate between a gel-like substance or a liquid. Nanocellulose has multiple valuable uses, including as a highly absorbent agent that has been used to clean up oil spills and used in sanitary products.
- Composite hemp plastics: Plastics that incorporate cellulose as well as a range of other polymers that may be natural or synthetic. Composite products are highly variable and can be used in a huge range of ways, including to make building materials, boats, car panels, and more.
What are the Benefits of Hemp Plastic?
To understand just how revolutionary hemp plastic could be in the fight against climate change, we need to discuss the problems with plastic. Mainly, two big problems. First, the world likes plastic… a lot. Research conducted by Science Advances discovered that we’ve created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic just in the past six decades. The second major problem is that the vast majority of plastic is made from petroleum, the same substance that’s used to make gasoline.
Digging petroleum out of the ground and turning it into plastic is a dirty business. The EPA calculated that producing an ounce of polyethylene (PET), the most common type of plastic, also creates one ounce of carbon dioxide.
Perhaps most destructive of all is that plastic made from petroleum lasts… and lasts… and lasts. It can stick around for as little as 20 years (for plastic bags) all the way up to 500 years (for disposable diapers and toothbrushes). The vast majority of plastic – around 79% — ends up in landfills or in the environment. With this unhappy reality in mind, hemp plastic offers a much better and cleaner alternative.
The biggest benefits of hemp plastic are:
Benefit #1: It’s biodegradable
Rather than taking 500 years, hemp plastic decomposes in three to six months.
Benefit #2: It’s a renewable resource
There’s only so much petroleum in the world, and we’re using it much faster than it can be replenished. Hemp, on the other hand, grows quickly and easily. It matures in roughly four months and can grow in a wide variety of soils across the world. After harvesting a hemp crop, a new crop can be planted the next season.
Benefit #3: Hemp makes for durable plastic
Hemp plastic is stronger and more durable than petroleum-based plastic and, therefore, is less likely to break. It’s also lighter than petroleum-based plastic.
Benefit #4: No toxins
Hemp plants contain no dangerous toxins. Petroleum-based plastics can contain a number of chemical compounds, including BPA.
Benefit #5: Easy to recycle
There’s a reason the vast majority of petroleum-based plastic ends up in landfills. In spite of high-profile recycling campaigns, it’s actually very difficult to recycle. Conversely, hemp plastic is easy to recycle.
Benefit #6: Carbon trapping
Hemp is well-known for absorbing lots of carbon as it grows. This carbon is locked into hemp plastic made from cellulose, helping to sequester excess carbon in the atmosphere.
What is the Future of Hemp Plastic?
If hemp-based plastics are so amazing, why isn’t everything made from hemp plastic yet? The answer is that the infrastructure to produce and distribute hemp plastic is just now being built, both in the United States and around the world. Hemp plastic may not seem like a game-changer now, but its future is bright. Today, companies are spending a lot of money to research ways to transition away from petroleum-based plastic, and LEGO even announced its intent to switch to a sustainable resin for its famous blocks by 2030.
One of the most exciting parts of this story for us here at High Grade Hemp Seed is that hemp plastic could potentially be made from the hemp byproduct, or hemp biomass, left behind after harvesting the buds from CBD or CBG. That means farmers have one more potential revenue stream for their crop.
What could be better than earning more money for growing hemp while also helping the planet? At High Grade Hemp Seed, we love to work with farmers who are interested in finding the right balance between high CBD or CBG yields and growing plenty of biomass for a secondary cash crop. Take a look at all of our high-yield hemp strains and give us a call today to talk to one of our knowledgeable experts. We can’t wait to work with you in our mission to lower the use of petroleum-based plastic!