Hemp 101: The Ecology of Hemp

Q:  Can hemp really help to preserve the environment?
A: Ecologists confirm an environmental versatility that elevates hemp above other industrial crops. Because it has few pests, hemp makes it easy to grow organically, which is why it’s been found to leave a much smaller carbon footprint than organic cotton and petroleum products. Polyester, like other synthetics, derives from harmful petrochemicals that do damage to our planet and oftentimes your skin.

Hemp demands half the amount of land per ton of finished textile compared to cotton, and farmers can grow without the need for herbicides thanks to hemp’s dominate canopy. Cotton requires four times more water and a much longer growing period than hemp.

It’s worth noting that textile production accounts for over 20% of global water pollution, just behind agriculture, according to the World Bank.  A single T-shirt made from conventional cotton requires about 2,700 liters of water, and nearly ½ lb. of chemicals to produce.

Impressively, hemp has the potential to displace much of the timber sourced for fibers in America, especially for papermaking. Here, hemp can substantially yield more paper per acre than standard wood pulp. Long fibers make it superior to short-fiber wood, and it’s an ideal additive to strengthen recycled post-consumer waste (PCW).

Paper made from hemp lasts over two centuries, nearly three times longer than paper made from wood, and it doesn’t yellow as it ages. Moreover, whereas standard wood requires the use of toxic, non-recyclable sulfuric acid to break down lignin and chlorine for bleaching, hemp pulp can be processed with a recyclable caustic soda. Hemp paper can also be recycled many times over.

An expert in removing soil contaminants, also known as phytoremediation, hemp cleans up soil contaminants and heavy metal deposits like cesium, cadmium, zinc and mercury. The plant was even called to clean up after the Chernobyl reactor disaster in the Ukraine. When used as a rotational crop, hemp biomass contributes to the soil’s fertility following harvest—all while sustaining local biodiversity better than America’s commodity crops.

Many of the commodities that replaced traditional uses of industrial hemp in the U.S. have created environmental externalities of substantial consequence. The contribution of petroleum combustion to CO2 emissions and the poor logic behind biodegradable plastics have been topics of considerable policy attention recently, and this renews interest in eco-friendly and industrial crops like hemp.

 

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