Can Hemp Really Save the World?
For centuries Hemp has been used to create textiles like twine, rope, and clothing. It was also used on occasion to make paper that’s much more durable than standard paper. With Hemp being able to finally make a comeback in the US, the demand to bring back these hemp byproducts is high.
We live in a world that is dominated by fossil fuels and one use plastics. Many people would like to see the reduction of these in our world. Hemp products offer that solution-- they’re natural and biodegradable, not to mention hemp takes about 4 months to grow and trees up to 80 years to reach a useful size.
If hemp is such a better alternative, why aren’t we utilizing it more?
There isn’t one simple answer to this question. Instead, there’s several answers and even more ‘what-if’s.
The most important reason is because hemp growth is still not legal in all 50 states, and it will likely be awhile before we will ever see the ban on hemp lifted.
Another big reason is money.
- The machinery in paper mills now is made for tree fibers and cotton and to change these facilities into sites that could quickly process hemp would be expensive. The hemp paper that is currently produced by some is also not the quality the paper market is used to purchasing.
- Cannabis is exponentially more expensive than our current supply of fossil fuels. As Ministry of Hemp states in their article Hemp Makes Great Plastic, So Why Isn’t Hemp Plastic Everywhere?: “While fossil fuel costs are kept low with subsidies, hemp products-- for the most part--remain costly luxury items. The U.S. legalized hemp in 2018, after a few years of research into hemp growing. However, decades of drug prohibition1 mean we’re still lacking much of the infrastructure needed to grow and process hemp into plastic.” Hemp also requires a large amount of water to support the crop. Eventually, the cost of Hemp will come down, but it’s hard to say how long before that happens.
A third problem: supply and demand.
- There isn’t enough supply to meet the demand that currently exists around paper products and plastics. In other words, there is not enough cannabis available for factories to run their usual schedule of 24 hours 7 days a week.
- To be able to grow enough hemp to displace 75% of tree fiber used annually, 2.6% of US farmland would have to be converted to the cultivation of hemp. Andy Kerr-- a conservationist-- breaks the math down on his website:
There’s too many risks with growing hemp.
There are many concerns that there is no way to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana. This is not true. They are both from the botanical family of cannabis, but vary in appearance and chemical makeup. Marjiuana is darker, has thicker leaves, and grows as a shorter stockier plant. Hemp is lighter color, has thinner leaves, and can grow 2-4 meters (6-13 feet) in height.
There’s also the concern that marijuana plants will be able to be hidden in hemp crops. Marijuana needs a regulated growing climate unlike hemp which is pretty resilient to the elements. Also, if marijuana were to be planted in a hemp field, the cross pollination from the hemp plant to the marijuana plant would affect the compounds in the plant resulting in a decreased amount of THC. (Michigan State University has a great explanation on cross-pollination between Hemp and CBD plants)
There’s also the concern of thieves helping themselves to farmer’s crops; and the cost of harvesting the crop; and the seasonal growing period of hemp; and getting the rest of the world to join in on the movement; and the list can go on and on.
Ultimately, there is no fast fix to the fossil fuel and plastic problems of today. We’re a long way from making the transition to relying on hemp as one of our main resources. However, we’re certainly making progress towards being able to use hemp products for our daily uses.
1The 2018 Farm Bill made the use of hemp legal in all 50 states. It did not change state laws and regulations in place regarding hemp. States like Idaho do not recognize that there is a difference between Hemp and Marijuana making growth of hemp impossible, and use of hemp based products difficult.
- Maryssa Harper