Hemp And The Environment
Hemp And Her Role In Improving The Environment
If you ever thought good old Cannabis Sativa was just a herb preferred by stoners then you couldn’t be further from the truth, It turns out hemp is great for the environment.
Hemp (the name commonly used for Cannabis Sativa strains with very low traces of THC) has over 25,000 documented uses and counting, ranging from bio-fuel, biodegradable hemp plastic and health food supplements like CBD, to paper, clothing and construction materials.
It’s no surprise then that it is being hailed by many as a potential superhero when it comes to saving the planet. So, what’s so amazing about this humble weed and can it really help us in moving towards a greener future?
Back in 2018, a climate focus report suggested that a shocking 64 million acres of forest were being destroyed around the world every single year. Factor in the devastating forest fires in Australia and the Amazon rainforest during 2019 on top of the annual deforestation figures and you realise that more needs to be done to protect our trees and reduce deforestation- fast!
Most of us were taught at a young age how critically important trees are to us and the planet, they produce the oxygen we breathe, help to clean carbon dioxide from the air and they create a rich habitat for wildlife amongst other things.
Small Hemp Plant
Sadly much of the reason for cutting down trees is to meet consumer demand for things like palm oil, timber, agriculture and of course paper. Production of paper products made from wood still continues to grow and forests are being decimated in order to try and keep up.
Do a little research into the history of hemp and it won’t take long to find out that humans have had a long relationship with the plant, in fact, evidence suggests it could be one of the worlds oldest cultivated crops for food and it’s fibres going back at least 10,000 years.
So, is hemp paper a new thing?
The answer is no, our ancestors clearly understood how versatile the cannabis plant is with archaeologists discovering the earliest example of paper made from hemp in China dating back to around 150 BC.
Hemp makes for an excellent quality paper as it has a higher cellulose and lower lignin content than wood, making it thin yet durable.
It’s no surprise then that throughout history hemp was the preferred choice for important documents and books such as the Gutenberg Bible.
It was popular until it’s decline after the anti-marijuana laws of the 1930s were introduced. Luckily the tide seems to be turning again in favour of what this miracle plant can do.
Hemp paper is way more eco-friendly and sustainable than paper made from trees as hemp can be produced much, much quicker, it takes around four months to grow hemp compared to 20-50 years to grow trees to a stage suitable to make paper. It is a no-brainer then that hemp paper is the way of the future and a simple way to help save millions of trees every single year.
Hemp Flower From Above
Along with saving the trees, hemp can literally help clean up the earth.
This hardy plant has excellent phytoremediation properties which means it acts like a sponge absorbing harmful toxins, heavy metals and chemicals from the soil as well as being able to absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Hemp is now also being used to by more farmers to regenerate fields that have been depleted of their nutrients, it has deep roots, and is a natural weed killer making it excellent for crop rotation.
If you think of an environmental disaster then the events that unfolded at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986, will be high up on the list for many people. Due to high levels of radiation, an area of around 1000 square miles was deemed uninhabitable for potentially 100 years causing devastation to people, animals and having far-reaching effects across the globe.
In the 1990s a team of scientist were successfully able to show more amazing uses of hemp by removing heavy metals from soil in contaminated fields near Chernobyl, with further studies showing that hemp is also able to extract nasties such as lead, cadmium and nickel from the soil as well as Dioxins which are a group of toxic chemical compounds known to cause cancer and damage the immune system.
There are also numerous industrial hemp strains out there able to absorb anywhere between 16- 22 tonnes of CO2 from the air per hectare planted as well as being able to absorb toxins from the ground, making it a potential leader in helping reduce climate change through carbon sequestration (the long-term storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), this would help to reverse some of the damage man has created so our planet can maintain a level of homeostasis.
Hemp Plant Close Up
It’s safe to say that a good majority of the construction and building industries have not been known for being particularly environmentally friendly.
Natural building materials that are also sustainable are growing in demand as pressure is being put on companies like house builders to be more environmentally minded.
Again, hemp comes to the forefront with its hurds and fibres being turned into eco-building products such as hempcrete, which when mixed with lime, forms a sustainable alternative to concrete. It doesn’t stop there as you can also make roofing tiles, wallboard, fibreboard, insulation, panelling and bricks from hemp making it incredibly versatile.
We already know that hemp can absorb vast amounts of CO2 as it grows and when turned into hempcrete it locks it safely away as a form of carbon storage. Hempcrete is growing in popularity, having been appreciated in countries like France for its building advantages for years.
It has excellent thermal insulation properties and is a breathable material, preventing condensation by being able to absorb up to 20% of its weight in moisture without deterioration.
A big advocate of hemp in building is Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud who was involved in a project to build 42 homes utilising industrial hemp, when talking about the build, Kevin McCloud said “I can’t think of another building material to match hemp. It has a low environmental impact, locks carbon in, can be grown locally in just a few months and doesn’t require lots of cables and power tools leading for a safer worksite and cleaner build”.
Here’s to hemp, helping to pave the way for a greener future.
Building with Hemp
Hemp has already been shown to have a multitude of uses and benefits and why should the world of fashion and commercial fabrics be any different.
Hemp fibres soften over time and wear fare better than other materials, hemp fibres are one of the key reasons our ancestors cultivated the wonderful cannabis plant in the first place. They found hemp-based fabrics to be strong and durable so in the past, it was the go-to source for clothing, as well as sails for ships and ropes.
Sadly due to the demonisation of this simple plant, its use as a fabric was replaced in the main by cotton and later man-made synthetic fabrics, only to be appreciated by a few peace-loving hippies.
Cotton currently accounts for around 30% of all fabrics and on the face of it, you might be mistaken for thinking that because it comes from cotton plants that it would be an eco-friendly choice but sadly growing cotton has a much higher environmental cost than growing alternatives such as hemp.
Cotton requires a huge amount of water due to being a thirsty plant, as well as needing more space to grow, it can take a whopping 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton whereas hemp production uses a mere fraction of water along with being far more resilient to pests.
Cotton has been classed by some as the world’s dirtiest crop due to its heavy use of insecticides. A report from the Environment Justice Foundation suggested that cotton uses 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides- more than any other single major crop with some of the most dangerous insecticides being used in its production.
There is very little organic cotton growing around the world with most commercial cotton seeds being genetically engineered due to the plant’s inability to deal with pests.
Shockingly most other fabrics used around the world are made from synthetic fibres, which account for 60% of textiles. Fabrics made from Nylon, polyester and acrylic come from petroleum which is a fossil fuel. Petroleum-derived materials are not biodegradable meaning they become hard to dispose of at the end of their lifetime and they also contain harmful microplastics which get released when synthetic textiles are washed.
Microplastics are known to adversely affect wildlife as well as us humans and studies suggest that clothes made from synthetic petroleum-based fabrics contribute approximately 35% of the global release of primary microplastics to the world oceans, thus clothing inconspicuously has become the main source of microplastic pollution.
Reducing production of man-made textiles and cotton in favour of hemp fabrics would go a massive way towards clothing the world in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
So there you have it, just a few of the many ways that cannabis can benefit the environment and help us to work towards a greener future.
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