Could Hemp be the Solution to the Global Plastic Pollution Crisis?

As many people already know, plastic is a problem, and plastic pollution has reached unstable levels, primarily in our oceans. The petroleum origin and harmful additives used in the manufacturing of plastic, coupled with the fact that it can take hundreds of years or longer to degrade, makes this particular pollutant a nightmare scenario.






“Garbage Island” is a popular internet search term that refers to a region comprised of plastic and sludge, roughly the size of Texas, currently floating the Pacific Ocean and decimating marine wildlife. The United Nations estimates that by the year 2050 plastic, by weight, will eclipse that of fish in the ocean.






Earth is being choked by prevalent plastic pollution and activists and environmentalists are scrambling for a solution. They believe they have found that solution in hemp.






The primary battle cry of hemp plastic replacement efforts is the fact that hemp plastic is biodegradable. It can take a standard plastic grocery bag several centuries to degrade, while hemp plastic can be produced to degrade in three to six months. This rapid biodegradability means it may not be perfect for everything plastic, but a perfect candidate for single use plastics (like straws).






A close contender for hemp’s main benefit is the manufacturing process. Hemp manufacturing does exponentially less damage to the surrounding environment and atmosphere. Most plastics are a final byproduct of fossil fuels and companies are extracting this fuel through hydraulic fracking. Essentially, deep rock reservoirs of petroleum and natural gas are accessed by fracturing the surrounding rock with high-pressure liquids. Since hemp is not derived from fossil fuels, the traditional environmental factors of plastic manufacturing are non-existent.






Environmental benefits aside, hemp is simply a great source for plastic in general. Hemp is rich in cellulose, an essential component in plastic. Wood typically contains roughly 40 percent cellulose, cotton has concentrations of cellulose reaching nearly 90 percent. Hemp is squarely in between the two, averaging 65 to 75 percent cellulose. Although hemp is not as concentrated with cellulose as cotton, hemp only requires half the water to cultivate and 25 percent of the water necessary to process cotton.






Plastic pollution is a global issue, hemp is a global solution.