What if there was a way to manufacture the majority of what we use that has a reduced carbon footprint, is renewable and biodegradable and has almost an identical price to our current methods? Meet hemp plastic, a composite material made up of a polymer base coupled with fiber additives. Hemp was once a driving force of the American economy and produces one of the strongest fibers known to humankind. It is a versatile plant that can make textiles, papers, foods and bioplastics. Unfortunately, cultivation in the United States was outlawed in the 1930s, but is finally making a comeback with medical and recreational cannabis becoming prevalent in the United States. It is legal to grow in the state of Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont and six other states of licensed hemp to be grown for research. Let’s take a look at the benefits hemp plastic has over standard oil-based polymers.
1.) It’s biodegradable and recyclable
Hemp plastic is completely biodegradable and recyclable when it is made with a biodegradable polymer. We traditionally think of recycling as the reuse of mechanical parts, although if we use more biodegradable materials, we could introduce a new cycle that would be much more environmentally friendly. Plants are harvested and broken down into essential components for production and a product is produced. After its use, it is put into a landfill where nature will run its course and break it down into necessary nutrients essential for the plant’s growth and the cycle is complete.
2.) It’s versatile, strong and lightweight
Hemp fibers are spread in a more random arrangement than traditional plastics and therefore increase the strength in every direction. The strength of hemp plastic makes it appealing in several industries. The automotive, building, and packaging industries are all being turned on to hemp plastic. It is also lightweight and has a very high ratio of density to weight. This allows it to potentially be used in aerospace to save weight on heavy structures.
3.) It’s eco-friendly
Hemp absorbs four times as much carbon dioxide as trees do during it’s quick 12-14 week grow cycle. Producing hemp plastic also requires 22-45% less energy than fossil fuel-based products (eiha.org). If you take into account the amount of carbon emissions absorbed during cultivation, carbon emission savings are up to 70% with most coming from processing and machinery. This is still a fairly new technology, so that number is very likely to increase as technology improves.
4.) It is easy to manufacture
Many of the same items we use in our everyday lives can be made with hemp. Hemp plastic is fully plastic-injectable. This works by filling up a hopper which melts the raw material and expelling it into a mold cavity where it is solidified. This process is extremely efficient and can produce complex parts with a low cost.
With Colorado being able to legally grow hemp and many states making strides to follow their footsteps, hemp plastic can be a evolutional part of several industries and take over traditional plastics all together. Continue to follow your local and federal legislation and keep your eyes peeled for hemp in the news!
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