Hemp Bioplastic and You (How To Teach People The Basics)
Hemp bioplastic: learn the basics of this paradigm-shifting resource so you can spread the word among family and friends, people you bump into, or related to business ventures while the hempen agricultural revolution sets in.
As arguably the most efficient source of plant-based cellulose, hemp is an ideal bioplastic crop, it can be grown primarily for food and fiber, is superior when it comes to atmospheric CO2 capture, and commercially requires less water and petroleum-based chemicals than conventional crops like corn, soy, or sugarcane (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides) to reach higher levels of biomass production.
The U.S. hemp-for-bioplastic industry has barely begun. It’ll take time before we have the acreage as well as the processing and manufacturing infrastructure, but the growth of hemp in America will be incredible for the next decade bare minimum.
Hemp is without doubt a part of the answer to the plastic problem; a giant boost for the ‘bioplastic’ and ‘atmospheric CO2 stabilization through responsible and organic agriculture’ movements.
Every day non-biodegradable and incredibly durable plastics as part of the throw away consumer society become a more serious pollution and toxification problem.
According to the Earth Institute through Columbia University, humans have pumped out over nine billion tons of plastic in the last seventy years. A good percentage litters our waterways and oceans. Recycling isn’t cutting the mustard, only helping with about 10% of the load.
Good news is a gargantuan mobilization is underway to address the plastic issue throughout the U.S. and across the world, and industrial hemp farming is absolutely set to play a huge role in this rapid international conversion. For most of us, our jobs are to support hemp farming, buy and use hemp products and spread the word.
It’s in the spirit of social education this brief article is produced.
Let's begin with a basic question which far too many people neglect to understand, even if they agree it’s a source of serious human-environmental-animal challenges.
The word plastic derives from the word ‘plasticity’, or the quality of being easily shaped and molded into films, fibers, plates, tubes, bottles, boxes, etc. Plastic can consist of a wide range of malleable synthetic and organic compounds or polymers (highly-bonded material) we cast into everything from jet paneling and packaging to the endless items permeating society.
Defined: The Plastic Problem
The problem is one of pollution - we’ve created endless mountains of plastic out of old carbon petroleum, natural gas, and coal - not counting what we’re still creating and now plastic pollution is found well, just about everywhere (including within human and animal tissue). We’re drowning in the stuff, and most of it isn’t going to non-toxically disappear into the soil with harmonious glee.
Extremely slow rates of degradation, decomposition or breakdown, especially when it comes to seaborne plastic.
Many of the eco-controversies plaguing plastics have more to do with their additives - stabilizers, fillers, plasticizers, and colorants - which can be toxic and leak into the environment.
Along with being derived from petroleum, the chemical industry devoted to plastic production is a substantial contributor to human emitted atmospheric CO2 and general environmental toxicity.
The many hurdles associated with plastic recycling processes.
Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if we harnessed a better more renewable, more accessible, less environmentally costly, plant-based resource for plastic-type materials…
We need a greener plastic resin supply alternative!
In Strides Plant-Based Cellulose (Again)
“Cellulose is a long-chain polysaccharide that consists of hundreds or thousands of linked glucose units.”
This is the stuff plants and many algae species are made of. Original plastics were made using cellulose, but dagnabbit, wouldn’t you know it, the petroleum industry sort of stole the show so to speak (most of its reign has coincided with cannabis prohibitions, oddly enough).
Crudely put, plants take sunlight energy and atmospheric CO2 (photosynthesis) and transform it into their cell walls and fiber...their being! Cellulose is organically captured carbon made into a polysaccharide, a polymer which we can use to make plastics like celluloid, cellophane, and rayon.
Where things get tricky is when we parse the types of feedstocks we can use to grow and derive cellulose or sugar or starches to create plant-based biopolymers - supply chains.
Are these crops intended for human food alone, meaning not a multi-purpose crop?
How destructive is the crop itself in terms of the amount of water contamination, depleting other natural resources, as well as fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide usage?
There’s endless amounts of cellulose in nature and most of it is easily renewable, but when farmed on a large enough scale to displace conventional old-carbon-based plastics, we need to be smart!
But Why Hemp Cellulose?
“We can perform industrial blending and standardization of several bioplastics that incorporate hemp bioplastic into a standardized plastic pellet, ready for use in commercial and industrial production.” - Cannopy Corp.
Again, it’s all about the following two benefits of the crop in conjunction with how much cleaner and more environmentally friendly it is via considerably less water and a tiny fraction (to non at all) of the petro-chemical usage:
Hemp is one of the plant kingdom’s champion cellulose producers second only to crops like cotton. Hemp hurds can be as high as 70-85%, with the plant growing incredibly fast to maturity in 3-4 months, producing great amounts of carbon biomass we can utilize for both plastics and fuel. Most varieties can be harvested multiple times a year.
Hemp is a multi-purpose crop, meaning we can grow it for both fuel/bioplastic AND food. Not to mention all the leftover and insanely useful fiber, cannabinoids, etc.
An example would be The Hemp Plastic Company out of Colorado, who currently sell a 100% bio-based Hemp PLA polymer seen in the screenshot below:
Those pellets are a perfect example of how hemp can do exactly what other thermoplastic polymers can do which we’ve been deriving from corn starch, soy, and sugar cane. The differences have to do with again, environmental impacts of the crop, supply chain optimization, and in their own words,
“Generally used in injection molding or possibly other forming methods developed by users, hemp PLA is designed to be a drop-in replacement for conventional fossil fuel-based polymers.”
To quickly summarize the benefits of hemp bioplastics…
Biodegradable in varying degrees up to 100%
An easily renewable agricultural resource
Strong and durable
Consistent thermal stability
Versatile with plentiful applications throughout consumer and industrial products.
Manufacturing ease – through standard plastic injection and 3D printers.
Displacement & Reduction
Is hemp going to completely replace the old paradigm and put the petroleum industry out of business? Maybe someday. We're moving in that direction already.
Our first goals are to start growing enough hemp for the multi-purpose resources to be utilized on a grand scale, and building or retrofitting the processing and manufacturing infrastructure.
As all this develops, hemp bioplastic will start displacing a chunk of this industry here and a smidgen of that industry there, taking more market share from corn, soy, cotton, wood, petroleum, and so on.
Example: Hemp Biopallets®
Picture in your mind a pallet, most of us have seen them used in conjunction with storing and moving consumer goods - of course made of wood and plastic. An Australian company created Biofiba® with hemp, which is a,
“Patented biocomposite simulated timber - used as a replacement for plastics, polystyrene, cardboard and as an alternative to tiber.”
Pallets might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when considering an end to the plastic empire, but it’s one small step in a long journey.
As consumers, entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists, now that industrial hemp farming is unleashed upon America we must embrace it.
This does seem to be the plan, whether we look at the highest levels of government and corporate state (judging by investments), or our small and independent organic farming communities. If you’d like to do your part to hurry the process along, everyone welcomes that effort.
Spread the word!
Start a company utilizing hemp bioplastic options, purchase hemp products to help proliferate the crop, and soon we’ll start seeing huge strides being made to clean up our environment — air, water, earth — of plastic pollution.
By the way…
If you think this article could be made more effective or useful or informative, please share your thoughts in a comment. We happily update our content. Also, as always, you can Cast your lot with the Darby Hemp crowd for as little as a $1. Every bit counts!