Environmental Benefits of Hemp
Industrial hemp is one of the world’s most sustainable, usable, and environmentally friendly crops. Hemp has over 50,000 uses and is being used for fiber, fuel, food, textiles, and construction materials. Consumers are excited not only about all of the uses of hemp, but that hemp products are more environmentally friendly and offer a sustainable, renewable, and green alternative. Not only can hemp be used to create sustainable products it can also be used as a renewable energy source. In addition, growing industrial hemp has many environmental benefits for the soil, the land, and the water.
Hemp - Good For Soil
One of the most intriguing environmental benefits of hemp is soil remediation. Hemp is one of the most effective crops used for removing toxins, heavy metals, and other environmental damage from the soil. This soil remediation process is also known as phytoremediation; ‘Phyto’ meaning plants, and ‘remediation’ meaning to heal. In this case growing industrial hemp can literally help heal the soil.
Hemp is the ideal plant for phytoremediation due to its structure and life cycle. In order for soil to be remediated toxins must be removed from more than the topsoil. Hemp has long roots that can reach 1- 3 feet into the soil and literally draws out the toxins. These toxins are stored in the plant’s biomass. Industrial hemp can grow to over 6 feet tall and provides plenty of biomass to store the removed chemicals and heavy metals. Hemp also has a very short grow cycle. Hemp fields can be planted and harvested within 120 days. The pollutants are removed by the roots, stored in the biomass, and then removed from the area after harvest. Although the contaminated biomass can not be used for food, fiber, or clothing, it can be processed for biofuel which further benefits the environment. Using industrial hemp to heal the soil allows phytoremediation to take place quickly and effectively.
Soil can become contaminated in several different ways. Landfills often leak chemicals and heavy metals into the surrounding soil. Fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and other toxins are used on crops across the world. These chemicals may help certain crops or farms, but over time they pollute, contaminate, and damage the soil.
Popular phosphate based fertilizers are a leading cause for a build up of Cadmium (Cd), a very toxic metal often found in agricultural land. Industrial waste and cars are other sources of Cd pollution in our soil. Studies done in China and Pakistan show that hemp was the best remediation crop for effectively removing Cd from the soil. Hemp also has a high capability to absorb heavy metals such as lead (Pb), nickel (Ni), cadmium (Cd), zinc (Zn), and chromium.
Natural and manmade disasters can also greatly damage and contaminate the soil. One of the largest manmade disasters was the nuclear meltdown that occurred in Chernobyl in 1986. The nuclear accident resulted in widespread radioactive contamination and had a catastrophic impact on the people and environment. Industrial hemp, sunflowers, and mustard grass were planted in the contaminated soil in hopes of eliminating the toxins. Scientists involved in the Chernobyl cleanup found that hemp was the best plant for remediation.
Hemp - Good For Land
Besides phytoremediation, industrial hemp has many other environmental benefits. Hemp leaves a smaller ecological footprint than cotton and wood, but can be used for similar products. Hemp is naturally pest resistant and requires little to no pesticides or fungicides. Cotton on the other hand uses 16% of the world’s pesticides. These pesticides not only contaminate the soil, but also pollute the water and air.
Industrial hemp has other environmental benefits for the land. It’s long roots help prevent soil erosion, and hemp produces a higher yield on a smaller amount of land than cotton and wood. Experts have found that one acre of hemp can produce the same amount of fiber as four acres of timber or 2-3 acres of cotton. Hemp grows in approximately 100 days, where trees used for paper, building materials etc. can take over 7-10 years to grow.
The pulp and paper industry uses wood fiber for paper and other products. These industries dump around 120 billion tons of CO2 and 3 million tons of chlorine into our waterways, which is extremely toxic to humans and animals. On the other hand, hemp paper doesn’t need to be treated with bleach or chlorine like wood pulp paper, thereby eliminating the need for those toxins. Hemp paper is also more sustainable; it is able to be recycled 2-4 times as many times as regular paper.
Hemp - Good For Water
There is a water shortage in many places throughout the world. Because industrial hemp requires relatively low water consumption growing hemp is a more environmentally friendly option and is an excellent choice for many farmers. Industrial hemp uses far less water than cotton, soybeans, corn, and other typical crops. It can take more than 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton, which is the amount of cotton equivalent to a single T-shirt and a pair of jeans! On the other hand industrial hemp only requires 300-500 liters of water to produce the same 1kg of dried hemp product needed for the same end products.
Hemp’s lower rate of water consumption is both an environmental and economic benefit. Many farmers pay extremely high rates for water. Because hemp requires less water than other traditional crops, the farmer’s production costs go down. Industrial hemp also gets a higher financial return per acre than other crops which further the economic benefit for many farms.
One of the biggest threats to clean water is plastic. Petroleum based plastic is polluting our oceans and waterways in catastrophic proportions. The chemicals found in plastic are killing plants and animals and the plastic materials provide significant risks to wildlife. Millions of pieces of toxic microplastics get into our water supply and are being found in humans and animals.
Scientists are working to help stop this environmental crisis by developing bioplastic. Hemp bioplastic is nontoxic and biodegradable. It can be molded into any form so anything currently made out of petroleum based plastics can be made from hemp bioplastic. This bioplastic is lighter, yet stronger and more durable than other plastics. Hemp bioplastic is nontoxic, pesticide-free, recyclable and biodegradable within six months. This bioplastic can help us combat the devastating effects petroleum based plastic is having on our oceans and waterways, and in turn on humans and wildlife.
Hemp - Good For Energy
Hemp is one of the most sustainable and fastest growing resources for alternative renewable energy. Hemp biomass can be processed into ethanol while hemp seed can be pressed for oil which can be used for biodiesel fuel. The hemp oil was found to have a 97% biodiesel conversion rate and passed all testing requirements. This hemp biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine and does not require engine modifications! Scientists have found that hemp biofuel is better for the environment than other biofuels made out of corn, sugar cane, beets, etc. The National Hemp Association states that, “hemp turns out to be the most cost-efficient and valuable of all the fuel crops we could grow on a scale that could fuel the world.” And a study in Pakistan found that hemp is a viable option for large scale energy production. By using hemp and other biofuels and bioenergy sources we are reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and helping mitigate climate change.
Industrial hemp has many positive benefits for the environment. Growing, processing, and manufacturing hemp can actually help the Earth through phytoremediation and the use of environmentally friendly hemp products such as textiles, paper, biofuel and bioplastic. Hemp requires less pesticides, land and water usage, and is a more sustainable, renewable, and green alternative to fossil fuels, plastics, and crops such as soybeans, corn, cotton, and timber. Many farmers, scientists, and average consumers are excited about the future of hemp and the positive ecological impacts it will have on us and the Earth.