How Choosing Hemp Can Help the Environment

As you’ve probably already discovered, Hemp is an amazingly versatile plant that can be used to create a surprising number of products, from face creams to dog toys.

But what you might not know is that when you choose to buy these products, not only are you choosing an amazing natural material, but you might also be doing something good for the environment. That’s because hemp has quite a few environmental benefits compared to alternatives like cotton and wood. 

©Karsten Wurth

Many Crops Harm the Environment

Cotton, wood, and many other materials that are used to create everyday items we rely on, often have a negative environmental impact when they are cultivated and processed. For example, according to WWF, producing enough cotton to make just one t-shirt and a pair of jeans can use more than 20,000 liters of water. Cotton is also responsible for a significant percentage of the world’s insecticide and pesticide use, both of which cause environmental harm. Similarly, WWF reports that the world’s voracious demand for paper products is a serious threat to forests and wildlife, and that the manufacturing of paper is also a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to give up all the conveniences of modern life in order to save our environment. Hemp can be substituted for paper, cotton, and a long list of other materials, and it causes less harm to the environment. Compared to many other crops, hemp grows quickly and easily, in many different soil types and climates. It needs less water than a lot of other crops, and doesn’t usually need pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.

©Mika Luoma

A Better Alternative

A number of studies have compared the environmental impacts of hemp cultivation with that of cotton, which is widely recognized to cause substantial harm. In one study by the Stockholm Environmental Group, researchers contrast the environmental impacts of both hemp and cotton production. They find that a piece of land can produce approximately three times more hemp fiber than cotton fiber, and also report that growing hemp requires significantly less water. Overall, the researchers conclude that hemp has a smaller ecological footprint than cotton. Not only does hemp farming seem to cause less environmental harm than cotton, but many people prefer hemp fabric because it’s durable, breathable, and has anti-bacterial properties that make it odor-resistant.  

In the paper industry, hemp also comes out ahead. Like cotton, the production of paper can cause significant environmental harm. Society’s continually increasing demand for paper products results in the destruction of millions of acres of forest every year, and the pulp mills where the wood is processed can cause air, water, and land pollution. Hemp-based paper is an alternative with less environmental harm. According to the Colorado Hemp Project, only one acre of hemp can produce as much pulp as about four acres of trees. Not only that, but the trees can take more than twenty years to regrow, while the hemp will grow back in less than a year. Additionally, hemp-based paper requires less chemicals during the manufacturing process, resulting in less environmental pollution. 

We’ve all heard that planting trees is a good way to reduce carbon dioxide levels, but not many people know that hemp is even better.

So Many Uses for Hemp

Wood and cotton aren’t the only products for which hemp can be substituted. Researchers keep discovering more ways to use this versatile plant in everyday products. One is plastic. While society has come to rely heavily on plastic products, plastic is really bad for the environment. Not only does its manufacture require the use of harmful petrochemicals, but plastic is steadily accumulating in our environment—the oceans in particular—where it is poisoning ecosystems. The United Nations estimates that about 80 percent of all the trash in the oceans is plastic, and stresses that this material is causing serious harm to marine environments, and costing society billions of dollars in damage. In an effort to reduce the problem, an increasing number of companies are working to develop hemp-based plastics instead. Unlike petroleum-based ones, most hemp plastics are biodegradable and recyclable. 

Hemp can also be used in construction materials and biofuels. According to the National Hemp Association, compared to fossil fuels like oil, fuel made from hemp causes less pollution and releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The reduction of carbon dioxide is important, because as concerns grow about global warming, most people recognize that society needs to greatly reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. Using hemp-based building materials is another way to reduce carbon dioxide. Unlike many conventional building materials such as concrete, hemp-based building materials actually help keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere rather than putting more in it. One increasingly popular hemp-based material is hempcrete, a mixture of hemp and lime that can be used in construction and insulation. Not only is it good for the environment, but compared to traditional building materials, hempcrete is extremely energy efficient. It’s also non-toxic, and resistant to mold, insects, and fire.    

Even More Reasons to Choose Hemp

In addition to being more sustainable than many other crops, hemp can actually help clean the environment. One way it does this is by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where it is currently at a higher level than it has been in hundreds of thousands of years. We’ve all heard that planting trees is a good way to reduce carbon dioxide levels, but not many people know that hemp is even better. By some estimates, it absorbs up to four time more carbon dioxide than trees

Hemp can also improve the quality of the soil by removing toxins and adding beneficial nutrients. It is a phyto-remediative plant, which means that when it grows, it can remove heavy metals and other toxins from the ground it’s growing in. Hemp is so good at this that some farmers plant it specifically to clean contaminated soil. In addition to removing toxins, hemp plants return vital nutrients like nitrogen to the ground, and their deep roots help aerate the soil, which is also beneficial.  

With so many potential environmental benefits, hemp is becoming an increasingly popular crop, and is showing up in more and more different products. This means that if you want to choose hemp instead of other materials, it’s becoming pretty easy to do so. Whatever product you’re looking for, you can probably find it made out of hemp, and if you choose a hemp-based product, there’s a good chance that not only will you love your product, but you will be showing your love for the environment too. 

 

 Written By: Andrea C. Nakaya

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