Hemp Paper: The right choice for the environment

Heather Ryerson FAQ

From the beginning of humankind to the present day, hemp has been one of the most significant plants ever to be discovered. It has been nature’s answer to helping humanity with everything from producing ancient medicines to natural textiles, all in an eco-friendly manner.

Furthermore, not a single part of the hemp plant needs to be wasted. Even fibers cultivated from the stems of the plant can also be used to make paper.  In fact, for a short period of time, almost all the paper fabricated in the world was made with hemp fibers.

A Brief History on Hemp Paper

Hemp is one of the earliest plants ever to be cultivated for textile fiber. It was first discovered by the Chinese who would use a mixture of old rags and bark made of hemp fiber to write Buddhist texts. Incremental farming improvements throughout generations made this plant a quintessential crop all over the world and, as time went by, the demand for hemp rose tremendously.

The plant was possibly growing most wildly in a secluded location in one of North America’s many near-perfect climates, but the first instance of hemp seeds ready to be farmed in the states came from our European neighbors. Once it became industrialized, hemp crops were harvested all across the United States, a picture of farmers stacking hemp stalks in bundles was even briefly used on the ten dollar bill.

The use of industrial hemp to produce paper became more prevalent in the early 1900s. In this period, hemp was also considered to be more favorable in comparison to pulpwood, which was the primary material used for fabricating paper. By the 1930s industrial hemp was the go-to source for paper and became a threat to traditional manufacturers that produced paper out of pulpwood.

A few years later, cannabis (a strain that is famously derived from the same family as the hemp plant) was the reasoning behind ignoring all the advantages of hemp and changing federal laws to outlaw hemp paper. This confusion of the capabilities and differences between each plant would temporarily affect the future of industrial hemp.

Cannabis contains high amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compared to the relatively small amount found in industrial hemp. Additionally, the hemp plant mainly produces cannabidiol (CBD) and a much lower quantity of flower. At a first glance, the two can appear similar, but the differences are significant.

This confusion between industrial hemp and cannabis was speculated to be purposely fabricated. And it temporary benefited manufacturers that made paper out of pulpwood. In the long run, though, the misconstrued notion has proven to do much more harm than good to the environment.

The Benefits of Producing Paper Solely Using Hemp

Advanced technology has significantly improved the way industrial hemp is farmed, making it much easier to make hemp paper. The numerous benefits of hemp easily outnumber the traditional way of wastefully making paper out of timber.

The United States is one of the highest consumers of paper in the world. Using wood as a raw material for paper is devastating for the earth, and chopping down the few remaining rain forests left in South America is creating more and more endangered species every year.

Hemp stalks can be harvested much more frequently than the time it takes for a tree to grow fully and mature, not to mention the waste of resources this creates. By removing a natural resource that has fantastic capabilities of absorbing carbon dioxide and other potentially harmful gasses, we destroy the quality of the air we breathe.

Forests have their own ecosystems as well, and trees play a significant role in many of them. It takes a healthy tree a minimum of 20 years before it can be cut down for timber to make paper. In this time frame, nature has moved in and inhabited the area.

This is unacceptable by today’s standards. Increasing pollution and unnecessarily harming nature should be avoided at all costs. All it takes is one-acre of hemp to produce the same amount of paper it would typically take on a four-acre forest using traditional means of harvesting and planting new trees every couple decades. This can all be done without needing to compromise or damage any of these already fragile natural ecosystems.

Besides, less toxic chemicals are used when producing hemp paper, thanks to its much higher content of cellulose. This quality also gives the paper an added durability and further reduces the chance of it turning a yellowish color.

With this outstanding number of favorable benefits, increasing the production of hemp paper is the perfect eco-friendly solution to incentivize the world into reducing the waste of limited natural resources, and its apparent advantages could also help fight back against the constant deforestation that is releasing billions of tons of CO2 into the air every year.

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Last modified: June 3, 2019