The use of plastic is one of the most damaging habits we have as humans... Just take a look at the great pacific garbage patch for example.
But it’s not like it all goes there. That’s just where the current takes a lot of it. Unfortunately, our plastic addiction has contaminated all but 13% of all fish in the great barrier reef in our very own home in Australia. Isn’t it just tragic?
As if this isn’t bad enough, commercial plastics used in most packaging all require fossil fuels to be manufactured. A lot of energy goes into making plastics, and the byproducts after making them also take a toll on the environment.
So not only are we destroying our oceans, but also contributing to the draining of resources and polluting the rest of the environment around us.
Most plastics will take at least 500 years to break down. Even then, the microplastics will continue to pollute marine life all over the ocean…
As it is, it’s said the average person consumes around a whole credit card worth of microplastics in food and drink every single week - that’s about 20 grams!
But rest assured, as small batches of composites called ‘bioplastics’ are starting to pop up all over the world, which can offer temporary solutions to our plastic habits as we start to change the way we use them.
Recently, companies have started to develop hemp plastics and that do not contain any of the toxic chemicals that can cause harm to both humans as well as the rest of the ecosystem we exist in.
Basically, hemp plastic offers a non-toxic, biodegradable, earth-friendly solution to one of humanity's greatest problems. To top it off, it’s much stiffer and 2x as strong as what we like to call ‘plastics from the past’.
Hemp… what can’t it do?
Hemp is very easy to grow and grows extremely quickly. It’s one of the fastest-growing crops on earth, with an average turnaround of around 3 months. As a fast-growing weed, it outgrows competing weeds before they have the chance to break through the canopy, which virtually eliminates the need for herbicides. Chemical pesticides are also rarely required, as hemp is a very pest-resistant crop.
One of the coolest things about hemp is something we talk about often… Hemp consumes a LOT of Co2 through a process called carbon sequestration, which can then be locked into the plastics that are made.
Yep, it requires so much Co2 to grow that it cleans our atmosphere. A similar process called phytoremediation also cleans the soil. You can read more about these in our blog about 7 ways that hemp is helping us build a sustainable future.
Once grown, it is harvested and processed, the stems are usually separated and further refined into hemp biomass. Stems are used because they contain anywhere between 70-80% cellulose. From the biomass, the cellulose can then be processed further and used as the basic building block for hemp bioplastics.
Simple - kind of...
You may ask when this concept of hemp plastic was made popular in the public eye. It might take you by surprise to hear that it was not a recent development!
In 1941, a pioneer in the automotive industry by the name of Henry Ford went public with a car prototype called the ‘Model-T’. There are unconfirmed stories of this running on hemp fuel, but what is widely known is that the body of the car was made from hemp-based plastic.
Unfortunately, it was made sure that this was never mass-produced. A couple of years later, hemp went from one of the most predominant crops in society, to being outlawed completely. Could you imagine what the world would look like if Henry Ford got this out to the masses? (Read more about Ford’s Model T, and his ideas for Biofuels here.)
However, the period of prohibition in the United States is over. We can grow hemp here in Australia now. And even Thailand just legalised cannabis and started educating their youth on it. But what does all this mean? It means there's more progress towards this reality every single day.
Finally, over the last 10 years, there have been new developments in the field of hemp bioplastics
3D printing technology is stirring quietly in the background, quietly making leaps and bounds towards viable, commercial printing options. “But what about eco-friendly options?” you may ask. Well, now there is one - and it’s made from hemp! Entwined™ offers a 3d printing filament that’s based on hemp. It still uses a poly-blend, but we think it’s a massive step forward in this field.
Made from a blend of 30% hemp and 70% other plants, Sana packaging offers hemp packaging solutions to relevant medical and recreational marijuana industries. They also make plastics using 100% reclaimed ocean plastic. Packaging is a huge issue in the marijuana industry in the U.S.A, which Sana hopes to help address by utilising the very plant that is being sold inside the packaging. We hope that one day, this technology will be adopted by the Australian market in one way or another!
The Hemp Plastic Company is a Canadian R&D company that aims to develop commercially viable hemp-based bioplastics that can be used in place of traditional plastics. Currently, they have a range of options available to cater to the needs of customers around the world.
You can check out their whole range here! You’ll be glad to know that they stock a 100% hemp bioplastic, that you could buy today!
So, hemp plastics are starting to look like quite the breakthrough, aren’t they?
The main reason we wanted to write this was to bring some awareness to the fact that our abuse of single-use plastics is causing exorbitant amounts of damage to our planet. But before leaving on a note of doom-and-gloom, we also want people to know there are solutions!
It’s not just hemp bioplastics offering solutions. Another great example of high-cellulose crops is sugarcane and corn. Basically, anything high in cellulose can be used to make cellulose-based bioplastic. On top of that, you have other bases like bio-resins. It’s all pretty nitpicky stuff, but if it’s what you want to learn more about, we encourage you to do so!
There are also people like Boylan Slat, who are making breakthroughs in cleaning up the plastics currently residing in our oceans! The Ocean Cleanup Project recently completed their first successful prototype, which they will eventually scale, and use to clean up their goal of 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.
So, it’s not all doom and gloom. And there are lots of solutions - Hemp is one of them.
Do you think hemp bioplastics will take off? What do you think the commercial biggest use of hemp bioplastics will be in the future? We’d love to hear from you!