Can Hemp Plastic Save The Planet?
Another surprising solution to the plastic problem? Support hemp plastic. That’s right, in addition to the thousands of other hemp products available, there’s hemp-based plastic.
Plastic. It’s cheap to make, convenient to use, and it’s in hundreds of products that we rely on every day. Unfortunately, while we love plastic so much that we keep making more of it, the stuff we’ve made lasts a really, really long time. When we’re done with it, plastic sits in landfills or washes into the ocean, where it’s wreaking havoc on our environment and our health. According to National Geographic, every year about 18 billion pounds of discarded plastic finds its way into the oceans. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. All that plastic is destroying marine ecosystems and ultimately making its way into our own food supply. You’ve probably seen some of the horrifying pictures of ocean creatures entangled in plastic and Pacific Island beaches covered in it.
Even more disturbing than the sheer amount of plastic that we throw away every year is the fact that approximately 40 percent of the plastic that’s produced worldwide is for packaging, which is used just once then thrown away. This month is “Plastic Free July”, where you are encouraged to do something about the plastic problem by reducing single-use plastic waste. There are lots of ways to do this. An obvious one: Choose reusable bottles, containers, and bags. Another surprising solution to the plastic problem? Support hemp plastic. That’s right, in addition to the thousands of other hemp products available, there’s hemp-based plastic. It’s an alternative to conventional plastic that is much kinder to our environment and our health.
How Do You Make Plastic Out of Hemp?
Plastics are made out of long chains of molecules that are linked together. The chains are called polymers and they repeat the same structure over and over again, which is what makes them so uniquely moldable, or “plastic.” Most plastics are made from polymers found in petroleum. However, petroleum is not the only substance containing polymers. Hemp (and many other plants) contain a polymer called cellulose, which can be used to make plastic. These plant-based plastics are also called bioplastics. Hemp contains a lot of cellulose. Cannopy Corporation—an organization specializing in industrial hemp and hemp-based products—calls hemp “the greatest cellulose producer on Earth,” noting that hemp hurds contain up to 85 percent cellulose. Plastic made from the cellulose-rich hemp plant can be replace petroleum-based plastic in many different products.
Using Hemp Plastic
So what kinds of things are being made out of hemp plastic right now? A number of car manufacturers are using hemp composites for door panels and other parts. For example, parts of the body of Porsche’s 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport are made from natural fibers including hemp and flax. Hemp-based composites are great for cars because they can be molded into many different shapes and they are strong, lightweight, and durable.
Another popular use of hemp-based plastic is for packaging materials. (Remember that plastic packaging is a major part of the world’s plastic problem, comprising 40 percent of plastic waste.) According to European Bioplastics, in 2018 close to 65 percent of the total bioplastics market was for packaging.
The Hemp Plastic Company
But packaging and car parts aren’t the only things that can be made out of hemp plastic. I spoke with Kevin Tubbs, co-founder of the The Hemp Plastic Company. This company makes hemp-based pellets which can be used to create a huge variety of plastic products. In fact, according to the company website, “If it’s currently made with petroleum-based plastic, it can likely be replaced with hemp plastic.” Tubbs says that there is a long list of items currently being manufactured from hemp plastic. “Right now we’re seeing everything from flying discs, and jars, and cosmetic packaging, and ASTM certified child resistant containers… [to] picnic-ware, he says, “People are clearly ready to see a renewable, sustainable, biodegradable or compostable option . . . and that’s what we’ve offered.”
The Hemp Plastic Company gets its hemp from the waste created by other hemp industries, for example nutritional hemp products or CBD. Tubbs explains that these industries only use certain parts of the plant, and the leftover waste is normally burned or composted. The Hemp Plastic Company takes that otherwise useless waste, and using a proprietary process, it creates hemp-based polymers. These polymers can be used by manufacturers to create almost any type of plastic product.
The Hemp Plastic Company can cook up a variety of different polymer recipes—up to 100 percent hemp—depending on the needs of the product designer. Tubbs explains, “The customers can come to us, and if they want 20 percent hemp, we’ll sell them 20 percent hemp. Anything they want, we’ll custom compound it to their heart’s content. If they don’t like our lineup . . . they can come to us with their own data sheet and say, ‘Make me a hemp plastic in this way.’”
With so many options, The Hemp Plastic Company is helping to make hemp-based plastic a realistic option for everyone. Tubbs insists, “Come one, come all. Hemp plastic is suitable for virtually any industry, and we welcome mom-and-pop start up widget designers and fortune 500 companies alike. Let’s make a difference. . . . It’s in our hands right now,” he says, “Let’s get off of fossil-fuel based plastic.”
You Can Be Part of the Solution
While supporting hemp-based plastic is a great way to address the world’s growing piles of plastic waste, there are other things you can do too, such as using less plastic overall. Visit the Plastic Free July website for lots of creative ideas about how to reduce your own use of plastic. Also check out this reusable food wrap in our shop. Made with beeswax and hemp, it’s a great alternative to plastic wrap. These organic cotton and hemp produce bags to use at the farmers market or grocery store are also great to use in place of plastic bags.