Could Hemp Be A Solution To Climate Change?

By Savannah Hasty

Climate change has become a hot political topic in the United States. While the answers on how to fight this worldwide dilemma are debated, one thing is clear: climate change is affecting our way of life, and Americans must actively participate in finding solutions before it affects our land for good.

Climate change isn’t just affecting the average global temperature. The average temperature of the earth has reached levels higher than our current average throughout history, but the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen dramatically since the early 1900s. Carbon dioxide is the real killer, as it not only contributes to warming, but can cause other changes in ecosystems that alter or destroy wildlife habitats.

Climate Change By The Numbers

Climate change isn’t just about the average temperatures. The unintended consequences of human activity can alter ecosystems’ soil or water composition, terrain, toxicity to native species. Research has shown that:

  • The global average temperature has risen over 1.8°F (1.0°C) from 1901–2016. Fluctuations have occurred throughout the century but the trend has shown a steady increase in temperatures, especially in the past 10 years.
  • Arctic ice coverage has decreased by over 12% each decade since 1901.
  • The average sea level has risen by approximately seven inches since 1900.
  • The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is approximately 400 parts per million (ppm), a level unprecedented for over 3+ million years.
  • If humans continue to create plastic waste at the current rate, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight by 2050.

Private businesses and public organizations are working together to find solutions to reduce waste and clean up the air and sea. Hemp, a hardy and sustainable crop, might be one solution that scientists turn to in order to replace plastics, wood-based paper, and more.

Hemp Plastic

Hemp plastic, though not widely available, is a strong alternative to petroleum-based plastics. Bioplastics (plastics made from plant material) are generally a sustainable option because they can decompose much faster than traditional plastics. For this reason, they can be recycled more efficiently and are less likely to pollute natural environments.

Hemp plastics can also reduce the dangers to humans that traditional plastics create. Petroleum-based plastics contain endocrine disruptors, which can alter the body’s hormone responses. If hormone imbalance becomes severe, it can cause issues with cell growth, fertility, and mental development. Hemp plastics, on the other hand, are nontoxic and will leave no trace when they biodegrade.

While hemp plastics are a promising sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels, they are not nearly as widely used as this second sustainable use for hemp.

Hemp Paper

Deforestation has caused several major issues in the United States. Not only does the process release tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but it takes away one of the biggest resources our earth has for removing that carbon dioxide. Trees use carbon dioxide to produce sugars. When they absorb carbon, trees reduce the carbon concentration in the atmosphere. However, when forests are clear-cut for paper production, the oceans and waterways absorb the excess, causing detrimental effects on oceanic habitats. Despite the devastating effects of wood pulp paper production, it is still common practice in the United States:

  • Over 200,000,000 tons of wood products are consumed annually in the United States
  • The U.S. consumers 1 billion trees worth of paper each year
  • The U.S. has preserved only 5% of its virgin forests
  • The pulp and paper industry produced 220 million pounds of toxic pollution each year

Hemp paper can reduce these numbers in several different ways. By using more hemp paper, which doesn’t require polluting chemicals to produce or bleach it, the United States can cut out a significant portion of toxic pollution due to paper consumption. Hemp paper lasts much longer, according to the Library of Congress: “While the hemp paper in volumes 300-400 years old is still strong, 97% of the books, printed between 1900 and 1937 on tree paper, will be usable for less than 50 years.” As opposed to wood pulp paper’s three-time maximum for recycling, hemp paper can be recycled up to eight times. Finally, hemp is simply more efficient than hemp in producing the raw materials. Hemp can be replanted every year, and produces four times the yield per acre.

Hopefully, hemp paper will eventually replace much of the paper we use in offices and homes in the future. Even if you don’t see hemp paper in stores, you might be able to find this last hemp alternative in a shop near you.

Hemp Clothing

Hemp clothing, which is potentially the most popular hemp alternative, is taking flight in the sustainable fashion industry. Hemp produces a strong, long-lasting, and soft fabric that can be used for a variety of clothing options. Plus, it has several advantages over cotton and other textiles.

While hemp is comparable to cotton in the energy required to produce and harvest, it uses significantly less land. Hemp can yield twice as much fiber per acre than cotton, making it a more sustainable choice. Plus, hemp is known for being a pest-resistant crop, meaning the harmful pesticides used in conventional farming are reduced when planting hemp versus cotton.

Not only is hemp more sustainably grown, it oftentimes produces a more durable fabric than cotton. While cotton wears easily, hemp fibers will strengthen over time. Unless you’re buying second hand, hemp is the way to go for sustainable fashion choices.

Hemp is one of the many sustainable raw materials that will guide our nation and globe towards a healthy, eco-conscious future. For more information on how hemp is helping our planet, visit our resource center.

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