Ways Hemp Can Help Change the Planet
Hemp has officially entered the mainstream. Between CBD’s rise to fam, the federal legalization of the plant with the 2018 Farm Bill, and its near universal availability online, hemp has officially crashed the party. Recently, while spending more time at home during the pandemic, folks have had the chance to slow down and think more about the impact of their buying decisions. This reevaluation has spurred a rise in eco-conscious living to include things like hemp clothing.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about hemp is its versatility. Yes, it contains CBD, the darling of the health and wellness industry and is found in everything from gummies to mascara. It can also be used to make smart and trendy clothing, but consumers are discovering that hemp is so much more.
Here are five ways hemp can help save the planet.
1. Hemp Can Help Heal the Soil
Hemp is a “bioremediator,” meaning it can absorb whatever is in the soil—both good and bad. It’s been used in Russia at the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster for just this purpose, and it could be put to good use all over the globe to clean up soil that’s been contaminated by man-made waste. Soil is essential to any healthy, robust ecosystem. Not only that, but hemp is naturally pest-resistant. By integrating hemp into existing fields and crops, we can decrease the use of chemical pesticides and further improve soil health.
Hemp plants are also very hearty and can be grown in many types of soil. (Cannabis a weed after all.) The root systems go deep and provide stability, which combats soil erosion. Hemp has a symbiotic relationship with the soil, supporting the microbial community needed to keep it vital and healthy. Not only that, its remnants make an excellent fertilizer, because the plants themselves fix nitrogen and are nutrient-rich.
2. Hemp Can Be Made into Biodegradable Plastics
Most of the plastics we use today are made from petroleum (crude oil), a non-renewable and toxic resource. Petroleum-based plastics take hundreds of years to break down and are an extremely toxic source of pollution globally. In the U.S. alone, more than 35 million tons of plastic are thrown away each year by households. In fact, a 2020 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts projects that 1.3 billion tons of plastic will flow into the world’s oceans over the next 20 years unless we take drastic action. Only about 10 percent of plastics are recycled.
The cellulose in hemp, however, can be used to make non-toxic, biodegradable plastic alternatives to petroleum. This, coupled with more responsible attitudes toward disposable products, and savvy consumers can help make a serious dent in plastic pollution. Hemp plastics have been produced in Europe for decades, including interior door panels in BMW cars (they’re safer than petroleum equivalents by not splintering on impact and stabbing occupants). Recent advancements in technology coupled with the 2018 Farm Bill will mean consumers will start seeing more and more hemp-based plastics being produced here in the United States.
3. Hemp Can Be Made into Fuel
As we move into more environmentally friendly and renewable sources of power, hemp is an important tool in the renewable energy toolbox to supplement other sources of green energy like wind and solar power. Hemp can be made into bioethanol and biodiesel, both of which can be used in diesel engines to run entire fleets.
Vast amounts of land would be needed to replace the current consumption of diesel here in the U.S. with hemp-derived fuel, but hemp has a leg up on other plants used for biofuels, because it has a 97% conversion rate. It far outpaces other biofuels made from corn, sugarcane, and soybeans, for example.
4. Hemp Can Be Used to Build Homes
Hemp fiber is known for its strength and durability. In fact, processing the tough hemp plant to make CBD poses unique challenges. But this toughness is a great advantage when we’re talking about hempcrete. The plant’s woody inner core is broken down and combined with lime to make this environmentally friendly and renewable building material with several benefits to both industry and the planet.
Since hemp can be harvested in only four months and not decades, hempcrete can greatly reduce our reliance on forests for construction materials. Hempcrete is cost-effective, strong, breathable, mold-proof, and fire-resistant. Developed in France, this building material is more commonly used in Europe, where even Britain’s Prince Charles built a home with hempcrete.
5. Hemp Can Help Alleviate World Hunger
Since hemp is a fast-growing and hearty plant that can grow in most types of soil, cultivation of hemp seeds can increase food production and help alleviate world hunger and malnutrition.
Hemp seeds are packed with protein and remarkably healthy. These seeds (which are technically nuts) are rich in two essential fatty acids that we all need for basic biological function, omega-3, and omega-6. They are also rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, and minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, and zinc.
For more information, check out the National Hemp Association’s impressive Climate Action Plan. It details how hemp can be used to help U.S. infrastructure, the auto industry, transit, the power sector, construction (buildings and housing), agriculture, conservation, and environmental justice.