Hemp Plastic: The Authentic Green Alternative

Heather Ryerson FAQ

Plastic is one of the most common materials used by society, and it is easy to tell because plastic pollution is everywhere. From unnecessarily large packaging to cheap furniture, this truly offensive material can take hundreds of years to decompose, and in some cases, it might not even be fully biodegradable. This creates additional complicated procedures necessary for efficient disposal that in turn causes more pollution.  

This abundance of persistent plastics is slowly killing the environment and if this carries on, the amount of plastic in the oceans could soon equal the weight of fish in the sea. Introducing a natural alternative that is one hundred percent biodegradable as well as eco-friendly is essential to helping marine life worldwide.

Hemp Plastic

Hemp is just as versatile as plastic and other synthetic materials, if not more so. This highly desirable plant has been harvested on a global scale for generations now, and not a single part of this fantastic natural resource has ever been put to waste in the process.

In 2014 a new Farm Bill was released by the government that facilitated the expansion of industrial hemp in the United States. The plant quickly became more popular. Subsequently, the US approved a significant number of grants that have allowed researchers to discover new and efficient methods where the use of industrial hemp could prove to be the much needed superior natural alternative to regular plastic waste.

However, what the majority of people do not know is that, many years before hemp became popular, it was already being used on an industrial scale to produce cellulose-plastic and other natural textiles.

Hemp-Based Plastic in the Automotive Industry

Talking about hemp-based plastic and not mentioning the pioneer of the automotive industry Henry Ford is almost blasphemy. He was the first person to utilize cellulose-plastic in designing a car.

After several years of thorough research, Ford discovered that hemp-based plastic was a far superior alternative to steel, so he decided to build the body panels of his prototype car out of cellulose-plastic hemp.

Fabricated with an eco-friendly approach, the 14 panels significantly reduced the total curb weight of the vehicle and the naturally robust composition of cellulose-plastic hemp was also much stronger than steel.

Ford tested this last theory by aggressively swinging a large axe at the prototype car. The hemp body panels appeared to be unaffected by this, but when he tried the same experiment on the steel panels, the axe pierced through immediately.

This prototype car was designed in the 1940s and, consequently, the automotive industry has now adopted this beneficial use of hemp-based plastic. A few of the major automotive brands currently use an estimated 20 kg worth of hemp in each car, and the demand appears to be steadily rising.

Furthermore, this clever use of cellulose-plastic has had a beneficial impact on the environment, considering the rapid time hemp-based plastic takes to decompose in comparison to conventional plastics.

Biodegradable Benefits of Hemp Plastic

It is hard to understand how the majority of plastic products are manufactured with abhorrent polymer resins, when a more natural alternative like hemp-based cellulose is abundantly available.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most common synthetic compound used to create this obnoxious plastic, and this horrible material is nonbiodegradable. The only way to properly dispose of this type of carbon-based plastic is by using it as a renewable resource, which creates even more unnecessary pollution.

Research has proven how this increasing accumulation of synthetic plastic is creating a catastrophic threat to the planet, wreaking havoc in the environment. Thankfully, the decomposition of hemp-based plastic is much faster than conventional plastics.

A study by the Niihama National College of Technology put this to the test by placing Manila hemp fiber in a natural soil mix for 240 days and the same sample size in a compost soil mix for 30 days. After a few biodegradability tests, the remaining samples weights were measured and carefully put under a microscope to evaluate their biodegradation behavior.

The conclusion of this study was that, in the case of composting, the natural biodegradable fibers were almost all gone after 20 days. When wholly buried under the soil, additional microorganisms could easily attack the hemp fibers, facilitating it to decompose at a much faster rate naturally.

In the case of a natural atmosphere, the specimens of hemp-based plastic took 90 days to achieve the same successful results and portrayed the same beneficial qualities when completely buried.

The overall accomplishments of this study have helped scientists prove how much faster hemp-based plastic can take to decompose. Plus, when the natural biodegradable fibers interact with microbes found deep in the soil, this time can be further reduced.

This outstanding natural benefit of hemp is another reason why big companies like BMW have opted to choose hemp-based plastics over non-biodegradable plastics. They used scientific foresight to acknowledge how the extensive use of unnecessary carbon-based plastics is causing irreversible damage to the environment.

The Future of Hemp Plastic

The perspective of using hemp plastic as a natural alternative in the future is looking very promising, with millions of dollars being funneled into research and new methods of use. The eco-friendly characteristics of hemp could be the optimal solution to a greener planet.

Hemp is an outstanding candidate that could finally help solve this problem of companies using objectionable materials that prove great risk to the future of wildlife and our planet. Hemp is straightforward to produce compared to the traditional materials that are often used to manufacture these plastics, and it is also exceedingly eco-friendly.

The most prominent ecological benefit, apart from the rapid decomposition of hemp, is that not a single part of the plant is ever put to waste. Through technological advancements and scientific research, we are continually discovering new applications where every part of the hemp plant can be used advantageously. Because of this, and the many other benefits the plant offers, hemp remains unrivaled to any other natural material.

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Last modified: June 6, 2019