How Hemp helps the environment

How hemp helps the environment

When you think about hemp, your first thought will almost certainly be of CBD or cannabis, and people consuming it or using it on their bodies. You may not know about all the different ways hemp can be used to help us protect the environment.

CBD is great for supporting your body’s health, so doesn’t it make sense that hemp is good for the environment too? Hemp was one of the first crops American farmers grew; it was introduced in 1606 due to its versatility. Originally, hemp was used to create paper, fuel for lamps, and rope, among other things. Now, engineers and scientists are finding new uses for hemp that are effective replacements for harmful materials and processes. 

So, can hemp really help the environment? Let’s look at some of the different ways hemp is being used in place of harmful products.

Benefits of Farming Hemp

Hemp plants are tall and skinny, with the majority of their leaves fanning out at the top of the plant. Because the plants are tall, they require a good root system to keep them anchored which runs deep into the soil. It is this root system that is beneficial for the environment and farming. Hemp helps:

  • Improve the quality of the soil: the long roots of the hemp plant help draw up moisture and nutrients trapped down beneath the topsoil. When land is farmed regularly, the same upper layer is used (hence why farmers have to fertilize the land each year). Hemp rejuvenates the soil, so it is more nutritious for crops in the future.  Their long strong roots also help with soil erosion. 
  • Hemp does not produce waste: there are a lot of crops we grow for food where we use very little of the plant. Think of fields of corn; we only consume the actual corn on the cob, but the stalks of these plants have little use. Hemp can be composted down to make a nutrient-dense fertilizer and combined into the soil to enrich it further.
  • Hemp traps carbon: carbon does a huge amount of environmental damage, and many environmental efforts aim to prevent carbon from being released into the atmosphere. All plants exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, but hemp is especially good at trapping carbon as it is 40% carbon. When hemp is harvested, it continues to hold the carbon for a long time and keep it out of the atmosphere. In fact, hemp traps more carbon dioxide than trees. 
  • Hemp helps against pesticides: Pesticides are very harmful to the environment and to us.  They can contaminate our land and water and have been linked to causing cancer. Unlike other fibers, like cotton, hemp does not require pesticides or herbicides to grow. 
  • Hemp uses very little water: Hemp irrigates itself naturally allowing it to need very little water to grow. 
  • Fast-growing: as mentioned above, all plants are great for the environment, but hemp grows incredibly quickly which makes it a great alternative to growing trees for paper production. Hemp provides us with a greater yield over time than trees, so it is a much kinder alternative to growing and chopping down trees, which involves a lot of environmental damage by destroying habitats and the use of large diesel-powered machinery.  It could help end deforestation. 
  • Hemp can eliminate harmful toxins: In 1998, the plant was used following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl to remove radioactive strontium and cesium. 

Building with Hemp

Hemp has some surprising applications within the world of construction. Here are some of the applications hemp can be used for:

  • Hempcrete: as the name suggests, hempcrete is a hemp alternative to concrete, which can be used to replace anything from insulation to concrete. Hempcrete is seven times lighter than concrete so it’s much easier to work with.
  • Steel alternative: hemp can be used to create a steel alternative that is not only more environmentally friendly but is actually ten times stronger than steel and six times more malleable. Steel production creates a lot of harmful byproducts, so the less steel we need to create, the better.
  • Hemp fibers can replace wood: hemp fibers can be used to create alternatives to paper, flooring, roofing, insulation, and other materials.

Hemp as a Biofuel

We all understand that fossil fuels are contributing to global warming and that at some point, they will run out. Hemp oil may be a possible replacement fuel, as it can be processed into biodiesel. In that form, it can be burned for electricity generation, and possibly used to fuel diesel engine vehicles.

Biodegradable Plastic-Alternative

Plastic revolutionized the world of manufacturing, but now we are feeling the effects of 7 billion tons of plastic waste, most of which has not been recycled and takes over 400 years to fully degrade. While hemp can’t tackle the problem we’ve already created, it can help us stop making it worse.

Hemp fiber can be used to create a plastic alternative that achieves the same capability of plastic but it’s fully biodegradable. Brands who champion being environment-friendly are already using it in their products, and even the big brands like Cocoa Cola are experimenting with it to see if they can make changes. 

Hemp in Vehicle Manufacture

At first, this may seem incredibly bizarre – using hemp to make a car, how is that possible? Well, you may be surprised to learn that Henry Ford actually built his very first car  using hemp steel, and it was designed to run on hemp fuel. Over the long term, electric vehicles will likely take over from our current fossil-fuel guzzling vehicles, but until electric vehicles can do thousands of miles on one charge, vehicles in developing countries and transport trucks may need an alternative environmentally friendly fuel.

As people become more comfortable with hemp and the cannabis plant family in general, it’s likely that we’ll see the benefits of hemp spread beyond what hemp products can do for our personal care, and out into the world at large. It is our responsibility to do our part for the environment, and if we can do so by embracing hemp more fully.