From the smartphone in your pocket to the bottle of water on your desk; synthetic plastics are as pervasive in our lives as they are an environmental concern. Every year the global debate rages ever more intensely on what we can do to curb the use of single-use plastics. Supermarket giants like Coles and Woolworths banning the use of single-use plastic bags in their outlets is a great start, but it isn’t enough by itself. The growing movement around bio-plastics and in particular hemp plastic is showing fantastic glimpses into the possibilities of the hemp plant, and the results are mind-blowing!
The issue with synthetic plastics
The term plastic originally meant “pliable and easily shaped”, although recently the term has become known to be a category of materials known as polymers. Polymers are chains of molecules that can be found naturally in everything from the cell membranes in plants, through to the synthetic polymers developed by humans from the carbon atoms provided by fossil fuels. The use and production of synthetic plastics boomed during WW11, where its production increased by more than 300%. Public pressure to reduce our reliance on plastic gained significant momentum during the 1960s as the need to reduce wastage, and environmental contamination gained widespread media attention. This was mainly due to the amount of synthetic plastic that were finding their way into the waterways and oceans of the world, with some estimates suggesting the decomposition time of 30 years for a takeaway coffee cup, and around 450 years for a simple plastic bottle, the future consequences of humans thirst for more single-use plastic will be felt generations to come!
In December 2018, Great Britain's Royal Statistical Society deemed this the statistic of the year: Only about nine per cent of all plastic ever made has likely been recycled. 40% of the plastics produced are for packaging, which is used just once and then discarded. Half the world’s plastics are made in Asia, with 29% of these built-in China. About 8% of the world’s oil production is used to make plastic and power the manufacture of it. Shoppers worldwide are estimated to use 500 billion single-use plastic bags each year, much of which end up in our oceans and waterways.
Now the good news - What is Hemp bioplastic?
With the emphasis now focused on moving away from traditional synthetic plastics, you probably would have heard or read about hemp plastic or other bioplastics being touted as a ready-made replacement. Globally speaking, bioplastics make up nearly 331,000 tons of the plastics market [European Bioplastics]. That may sound like a lot, but it only accounts for less than 1 per cent of the 200 million tons of synthetic plastics the world produces each year [source: Green Council].
The hemp plant needs very little water to grow, is naturally pest-resistant, and produces more pulp per acre than trees. Hemp plastic is bio-degradable, toxin-free and recyclable and is made from the stalk of the hemp plant. The hemp stalk contains a high cellulose count (it’s made up of about 65-70% cellulose) which gives it its strength, flexibility and versatility. These high levels of cellulose are essential to note because cellulose is the most naturally abundant natural polymer (see how we brought it full circle!).
Hemp plastic – what is it suitable for and where is it going?
Hemp plastic can be used in a wide variety of products, with the recent legalisation for growing hemp gaining momentum in countries such as the US, Canada and Australia, the possibilities for developing further innovations are massive. Some of the current known uses for Hemp plastic are in construction materials such as concrete as plasterboard, with entire homes being built from hemp in places all over Australia.
Many of you may have heard the anecdote somewhere that Henry Ford's first Model T car had at least some parts that were made of hemp. No, this is not just "Greeny” propaganda; this was a real thing. Henry Ford introduced a prototype all the way back in 1941 for the world's first bio-plastic vehicle, that would also run on ethanol. Due to the fact that hemp was outlawed in the United States just four years earlier in 1937, this prototype never got off the ground due to the concerns with getting enough supply of materials to mass-produce the vehicle. Almost a century later when hemp was finally again legalised, Jay Leno formally of the Tonight Show, took a modern-day version for a spin.
It's not just the construction, and industrial sectors that can benefit from the use of bioplastic, the Danish toy giant LEGO has pledged to use sustainable materials in their core product and packaging by the year 2030. With over 19 billion LEGO elements manufactured each year, this shift to a more sustainable product is excellent news from an industry leader, with bioplastic set to replace the current fossil fuel-derived materials.
As we have learned, hemp is a robust and beneficial plant that can be used in a number of sustainable ways- imagine what it can do for the insides of our bodies. If you haven't tried hemp oil before, click here 100% Raw Hemp Seed Oil