Hemp farming has dramatically increased once more as manufacturers look to cash in on medicinal cannabinoids such as CBD that are contained in the plant’s flowers and leaves, but by not utilising the full potential of the plant are they throwing away other benefits?
Hemp paper is made from the stalks of the plant which contain long bast fibres and hurds – the woody inner part of the hemp stalk. It is ideal for papermaking as this material is composed of 85% cellulose, the primary constituent of paper, compared to 35% cellulose content in wood. It also contains fewer ligands than trees which must be removed prior to processing.
History Repeating Itself
Hemp paper is nothing new. It was used as early as the 1st century by the Chinese and up until 1883 around 90% of the world’s paper contained hemp fibres. It was most notably the paper of choice for the first two drafts of the American Declaration of Independence, The Gutenberg Bible, Russian currency, Mark Twain novels, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and so on.
When hemp is processed it can be made into a durable long-lasting thin paper that does not break, yellow or deteriorate (as wood paper would), and it can also be made into soft brittle paper for more day to day uses such as paper towels and even toilet paper.
Challenges & Opportunities
The Extract spoke to a prominent hemp paper businessman (who wished to remain anonymous) who set up a hemp toilet paper business in China originally and then moved back to America. He knows that the move to hemp is inevitable given the scale of deforestation but says that “to make any changes requires hundreds of millions, political will, and machiavellian chess moves.”
This would make sense as the industry is very much in the early stages and as a result, the cost for the consumer is still too high for mass adoption. That being said, the recent passing of the farm bill together with the worldwide uptake of cannabinoids has resulted in a surge of extra material that entrepreneurs are currently eyeing with great optimism.
It would be fair to say that hemp paper is not a matter of if but in this ecological environmental crisis, a matter of when. Here we look at the many reasons as to why.
Trees account for around 30% of our planets oxygen needs yet it is estimated that around 4 billion are destroyed each year for our paper needs alone. The cutting down of forests not only destroys the quality of our air but also around 80% of the plants and animals that live there.
Our forests are also essential for the long term conservation of water and the preservation of soil nutrients and by moving to hemp we can ultimately reverse deforestation.
Hemp Grows Faster
The hemp plant takes 3 to 4 months to grow to full maturity compared to trees which can take anywhere from 20 – 80 years. Astonishingly one acre of hemp can produce the same amount of fibre as one acre of trees grown over 5 years!
Better for Our Health
Pine plantations with no diverse range of other tree species lead to disease with foresters having to spray toxic chemicals to kill pathogens which is detrimental to our health.
Hemp also contains over 113 cannabinoids which have huge medicinal potential as per the thousands of papers in the US National Library of Medicine.
The soil that grows our food is being destroyed by artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Hemp does not require any of these deadly chemicals to grow and even has the (much-needed) ability to restore nutrients to the soil all the while removing heavy metals and toxins which it does by way of a process known as phytoremediation.
Improves Air Quality
Regardless of your opinion on climate change, we all agree that an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is deadly to our livelihoods. Hemp has the ability to sequester and store CO2 from the air and release oxygen. By using hemp we can allow the trees to do their primary job.
Save the Plants and Animals
By using hemp rather than trees our forests will continue to grow and expand. This growth will be the safety and shelter both plants and animals need to survive. We can then begin to re-plant a diverse range of hardwood tree types to improve diversity and reduce the risk of disease.
The harsh reality is that mankind has a readily available option at his disposal. Consumers are more conscious now of the impending environmental doomsday and as such will vote with their cash. Of course, this vote will only be cast if there are hemp paper options available.
Thankfully it is possible to purchase hemp paper from numerous sources such as Green Field Paper Co, Tree-Free Hemp and more companies that are appearing each day.
The more consumers purchase, the greater the amount that is manufactured, which will lead to a lower cost. This will be followed by a dramatic increase in the way we live and ultimately the way we breath.
Written By: Johnny Hughes