Look around… your home, your office, any store. How many items do you see that are made of plastic? Once you start to notice, it can be alarming to realize how much of our “stuff” is plastic!
100 million tons of plastic is produced annually, 45% of which is manufactured in the United States. Conventional plastics are petroleum based, sourced from non-renewable fossil fuels. Not only is this resource being depleted, but its extraction is expensive and detrimental to our planet. Production of petroleum-based products creates massive levels of pollution that contribute to climate change. The products themselves contain toxins, which may be leached into our food chain and our bodies! Because these products do not biodegrade, they often end up in landfills. Consequently, they can squander scarce land and release toxins into our environment.
Bioplastics may be the solution! Industrial hemp is front and center as a plant source of choice. The stalk, with its high cellulose content, is the portion of the hemp plant that is used in several types of bioplastics. Such plastics can range from conventional plastics reinforced with hemp fibers to plastics that are 100% hemp-based.
Hemp plastic is recyclable and can be manufactured to be entirely biodegradable, even compostable. It can be blown or injection-molded in standard equipment with no modifications needed. Up to 5 times stiffer and 2.5 times stronger than conventional polypropylene plastic, it is highly impact resistant. It has good UV and thermal stability, a high tolerance to heat and is well-suited for use in plastics that must meet flammability standards.
Zeoform, an innovative Australian company, has worked to advance biodegradable hemp technologies and has developed a super-sturdy plastic. This plastic is made entirely from hemp that is “ground down” with water only; no solvents are used in this very clean process. According to an article in Leaf Science, “Zeoform CEO Alf Wheeler says the product is highly durable, relying on the natural process of hydrogen bonding that occurs when cellulose fibers are exposed to water. The bond that is created is so strong that no glue is required.” The final material is formed into fine pellets or sheets and can be sprayed or molded into almost any shape. It can also be sanded, polished or coated like wood.
So what can be made from hemp plastics? Applications thus far include furniture, automobile components, jewelry, eye glass frames, musical instruments, plastic bags, mobile phone cases and chargers, toys, and more. A reusable hemp water bottle is also in the works – aimed at reducing the more than 1.5 million barrels of oil used to produce the one-use plastic bottles consumed in the U.S annually. Hemp is reported to be under consideration by Lego® as a resource to replace fossil fuels in the plastics of their popular building kits, a change they plan to have in place by 2030. Could it be? We shall wait and see…
Hemp provides a sustainable, stable, affordable supply of raw material for bioplastics that has the potential to out-perform petro-based plastics. And rather than contributing to climate change, hemp products sequester more carbon dioxide than is released during production, thus are considered carbon negative. Henry Ford was a pioneer of bioplastics, which were used in his Model T that was unveiled in 1941. He had the right idea: “Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down if we can get the equivalent of forests and mineral products from the annual growth of the fields?“