Although hemp has been criminalized for almost a century, it’s made a huge comeback in recent years. With a history that spans thousands of years, hemp is actually one of the oldest domesticated crops known to man. It’s grown as a renewable source for raw materials, providing valuable resources throughout history and playing an integral role in several different cultures. Highly versatile, hemp can be used to make health foods, paper, organic body care, cordage, textiles, biofuel, and much more.
But did you know that hemp is also good for the planet? From cleaning the air, regenerating soil, and providing a habitat for wildlife, hemp has several environmental benefits! Here are a couple of examples.
1. Forest Conservation
While the world seeks to slow the pace of climate change and promote wildlife preservation, we continue to see the mass destruction of trees for short-term industrial gain. According to National Geographic, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of forest between 1990 and 2016. About 17 percent of the Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years, and the losses continue to grow. However, hemp may be able to help with this critical problem. Hemp has great potential to create similar wood and paper products to what is sourced from trees. While trees take years to mature, hemp can be grown in just four months.
2. Hemp Regenerates The Soil
Hemp is extremely adept at cleaning polluted soil. Since the stem and leaves of the hemp plant are jam-packed with nutrients, its organic matter is able to decompose and replenish the soil with organic goodness. Other research shows that hemp is able to absorb heavy metals such as nickel, cadmium, and chromium from the soil without a significant effect on plant morphology. As such, hemp can also be used to clean up solvents, pesticides, crude oil, explosives, and other harmful toxins that seep from landfills.
3. Hemp Supports Sustainable Farming
Sustainable farming is all about meeting society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Hemp is a weed that is able to grow within four months of being planted, takes up little space and produces more pulp per acre than trees. Furthermore, hemp is naturally resilient to most pests, removing the need for most pesticides and herbicides. Huge reductions in chemical use can be achieved by using hemp.
4. Nothing Goes To Waste
Hemp can be used to produce over 25,000 products! Virtually every part of the plant can be used. The stalk can make textiles, canvas and rope, while its woody core can be used for paper, construction and animal bedding. Hemp seeds, considered to be ‘superfoods’, are high in protein, fiber, omega-3 fats and other nutrients, while hemp oil can be used for cooking and paints.
5. Hemp Can Replace Plastic
Almost 18 billion pounds of plastic waste makes its way to global coastlines every year, contaminating wildlife and the ecosystem around it. Plastic is all around us and a part of daily life; however, only about 9% of the plastic produced has been recycled. It can take at least 400 years to decompose, which is why it is absolutely critical to find sustainable alternatives. Hemp composites may be the solution. Strong, light, and cheaper than fiber glass and carbon fiber, hemp can create bioplastics that is also 100% biodegradable. Today, automobile companies are now researching ways to create plant-based materials to replace plastic and metal car parts. Many car manufacturers have already switched to hemp composites for door panels, columns, seat backs, floor consoles and instrument panels.
As we continue to decriminalize hemp and see increases in cultivation, this miracle plant will likely play a major part in helping to combat the environmental crisis. Morris Beegle, co-founder and president of WAFBA (We Are For Better Alternatives) is passionate about replacing unsustainable agriculture practices. “Industrial agriculture is one of the greatest drivers, maybe even the biggest driver, of climate change,” he says. “Hemp is a more sustainable, organic and regenerative agricultural crop, and most everything that you can make with cotton or soy or corn can be made with hemp – with way less impact on the Earth.”