Plastic Pollution seems to be the scourge of the 21st century, and we only have ourselves to blame. Single-use plastic pollution may be one of the most pressing issues of the decade. And the damage being done is far more than just aesthetic!
The majority of plastic products tend to be used once, and then thrown away to float around the planet for… well, longer than any of us will be here. As the elements slowly break down the plastic, toxic chemicals and microplastics permanently leech into the environment. You can read more about the damage plastic is causing here
Whilst it seems very difficult to completely eliminate our dependence on conventional plastic, there may be other options that could help save the environment. The only setback with these options is that they require humans to change their consumption habits too.
Natural plastic alternatives have slowly started to show up in the mainstream market. When looking for natural plastics, you may run into the likes of sugarcane, corn, and of course our favorite – Hemp. Whilst natural plastics aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of plastic pollution, it can at least start to ease the burden on the environment.
This week we’re taking a look at whether Hemp can play a role in solving plastic pollution and what the potential hurdles may be. Read on to learn more!
Farming Hemp is a very eco-friendly practise. Hemp is grown, harvested, and processed into biomass. Farming Hemp is carbon-negative in the best case, and carbon-neutral in the worst. This means that growing Hemp takes more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than it puts out. It stores Co2 in its stalk and also puts Co2 back into the soil, which enriches the land it’s grown on.
When it comes to the production of Hemp plastics, it’s much more eco-friendly than regular ones. Fossil fuels are not required to extract cellulose. Instead, modern techniques require acid and alkali substances to slowly separate the cellulose from the lignin. The cellulose is then used in the manufacturing of natural Hemp plastic.
Another benefit for the planet is that Hemp plastics are biodegradable. More research is still required on how natural-microplastics impact the environment, but at the very least there aren’t so many harmful chemicals. When natural plastics start becoming normal, the best practise will be disposal in landfill.
On a side-note the quicker a plastic breaks down, the more aesthetically pleasing the planet will be.
Before addressing whether Hemp can help with plastic pollution, we have to look at the problems that plastic pollution causes and how it happens.
Plastic pollution is caused by our insatiable appetite for plastics – more than anything, single-use plastics. These are the greatest problems because the everyday person uses single-use plastics regularly, then gets rid of them.
As the name suggests, single use plastics are used once and then disposed of. Conscious consumers put them in the recycling bin, but many who don’t know better often discard them into the open environment. This is where a significant amount of damage occurs. The countries who have the biggest problem with single-use plastics tend to be developing countries where recycling programs and public disposal services are lacking.
When plastic is discarded into the environment, it ends up in one of the various ecosystems on our planet; the land or ocean. When they are exposed to the natural elements, they break down over decades – even hundreds of years. Plastics break down into microplastics, and microplastics break down into nanoplastics. Nobody knows how long it takes these compounds to completely re-assimilate into the ecosystem; or if they actually do.
So what about hemp plastic?
Although the more eco-friendly option, Hemp plastic is thought to still produce microplastics – albeit, without the toxic chemicals leaching from the bottle. The bottom line is that there is no avoiding microplastics, but we can manage our relationship with plastics in general to begin harm reduction. Plastic pollution isn’t a problem that can be solved simply by using substitutes.
However, if we team up with natural plastics whilst reducing how much single-use plastic we use at the same time, we might make a real impact.
To put it into perspective, conventional single-use plastics are responsible for between 4-8% of Europe’s fossil-fuel consumption. This contributes to climate change significantly, and that’s just at the beginning-of-life stages. At the end-of-life, plastics break down and turn into microplastics while leaching toxic chemicals into the environment.
Whilst microplastics are still a side-effect of bioplastics at the end of life, the damage caused by production is nowhere near as bad as oil-based alternatives. Hemp, Kanif, Sugarcane, and other fibrous plants are being looked at as viable options. The only problem right now? Scaling the operations to a commercial level.
The best thing we can do for our environment is start being smarter with plastic use. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.