Can Hemp Plastics Solve Our Plastics Pollution Crisis?

hemp plastics and pollution

The world is presently at a point where one of the major talking points is the issue of climate change and pollution. Due to some of our activities, the integrity of habitability of the earth is gradually depleting and the main focus now is to slow down this depletion. One of the subsets of the general pollution facing the world is plastic pollution. Plastic pollution has become one of the major scourges of oceans on planet earth and it has developed into a huge crisis.

A closer look

The world produces a huge amount of plastic yearly as plastics are deeply engrossed in different parts of human life. In 2015, over 322 million metric tons of plastics are being produced in a year and this number continues to increase year after year. Another devastating fact is that over 8 million metric tons of plastics make their way into the ocean every minute. This has led the UN to project that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fishes in the ocean. In a bid to curb this trend and remedy the situation different bodies are taking huge steps to stop the growing index of plastic pollution. The EU has banned single-use plastics and some other governments are looking to follow suit.

Unfortunately, the essentiality of plastics means that they cannot be completely excluded from society prematurely. It will create a huge void that has to be filled by another product. The world has projected that over 80 to 120 billion dollars will be needed to solve the crisis. The plastics being used presently are petroleum-based plastics and a change to hemp bioplastics can be the much-needed answer to the present issue of plastic pollution.

Hemp bioplastics to the rescue

Hemp is known to be useful in different industries. It is used as a building material called hempcrete and is also used in the food and clothing industries. This beneficial herb might just be the answer to the plastic pollution crisis through hemp bioplastics. The hemp industry has grown considerably over the years especially since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp use. The hemp industry according to Hemp Business Journal is on the way to being worth $28 million and this can increase further with hemp bioplastics. Hemp bioplastics are already in use considerably in the automotive industry and it can be the answer to the present plastic pollution crisis.

Petroleum-based plastics have left huge garbage patches in the oceans because it takes longer for them to degrade. Two prominent examples of such garbage patches are the North Atlantic and Great Pacific garbage patch. The Great Pacific garbage patch is nearly two times the size of Texas and the devastating effects on organisms in the ocean cannot be overemphasized. Hemp bioplastics if properly utilized has to potential to save the planet from this ongoing crisis due to some beneficial characteristics of hemp.

Hemp is biodegradable

The limiting factor of petroleum-based plastic products is that they take considerably long periods to degrade. Some can take as much as hundreds of years if not more and during that duration, they clog up waterways and inhibit normal processes in water bodies. Hemp on the other hand takes far lesser time to degrade because it is biodegradable. It takes within 3 to 6 months to degrade completely. This means it does not add to the waste that already affects water bodies and it consequently reduces pollution. The biodegradable nature of hemp means that it can only be used for single-use products such as plastic straws. However, this plays its part in reducing the number of plastics that cause pollution in water bodies.

Hemp is better for the environment

The manufacturing process of hemp compared to petroleum-based plastics does less damage to the environment. Plastics are generally produced from fossil fuels which are extracted through fracking or hydraulic fracturing. Fracking can easily be explained as the use of high-pressure liquids to fracture deep rock formations that house natural gases and petroleum. Even though many companies involved in fracking claim that it is safe and not harmful to the environment, the reality cannot be more different. Fracking contaminates the air, soil, and waters with harmful toxins and pollutants that are detrimental to human health.

A documentary Gasland showed firsthand the severity of the issue of fracking as a man set his tap on fire merely by holding a lighter close to it. Hemp on the other hand does not have such issues during the manufacturing process. It is a natural herb meaning there’s no need for fossils or fracking making it safer and better for the environment.

Hemp is a good source of plastic

The major factor that determines the ability of a material to be used for plastic is the cellulose content. Cellulose is a major component of plastic and only materials with a high concentration of cellulose are used for plastics. The three major sources of cellulose are cotton, wood, and hemp. Wood contains about 40 percent of cellulose while cotton contains about 90 percent of cellulose. Hemp has a cellulose percentage between 65 and 75 percent. Even though hemp has lesser cellulose content than cotton, it is still a better choice for plastics than cotton. Cotton requires 50 percent more water than hemp for treatment and four times more water than hemp for processing. This makes hemp a better option environmentally and financially.

Hemp has a quick growth cycle

The short growth cycle of hemp is an added advantage that makes it a suitable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. The natural herb can be easily grown without strenuous conditions within a short period and give considerable yield that can be used in the plastic industry. Hemp has a fiber-per-acre ratio making it a profitable plant to cultivate.

Bottom line

The downsides of the present types of plastics are very glaring to see and if we are to protect and save the planet, a change is needed. Hemp has all the necessary characteristics to be the right substitute to save the planet from its present plastic pollution crisis.

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