In recent years, hemp has entered the mainstream marketplace as a versatile plant with an ever-growing list of uses. Hemp’s vast utility seemingly knows no bounds: it can be found in everything from cosmetics and building materials to clothing and food products. In fact, there are over 25,000 documented uses for hemp!
The use of hemp in everyday commodities is no passing trend – this helpful plant is here to stay. This is due not only to its variety of uses, but also to its sustainability.
What is hemp?
Hemp is federally legal in the United States since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which also legalized hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD). Legal hemp is defined as any cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by weight.
THC is the main psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant. Whereas marijuana plants contain large amounts of THC and produce a high when consumed, hemp plants contain very low levels of THC and consumers therefore do not experience any psychotropic effects. Follow this link to learn more about the differences between hemp, cannabis, and marijuana.
Historically, hemp was a valued crop in the United States until it was deemed dangerous and made illegal under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. 20th-century fears gave hemp a bad name, but since the late 1990s, hemp has gradually regained interest due to its undeniable versatility.
Hemp can be consumed as hemp oil or hemp milk, or even by eating hemp seeds. Its fibers can be woven into textiles and used to make fabrics for clothing or furnishings, and its woody core, or hurd, is often used to create paper or construction materials. Hemp is also used in cosmetics, paint, and adhesives, amongst an extensive list of additional uses.
Why is sustainability important?
Sustainability refers to the long-term viability of the earth’s environment. To be sustainable means to seek out renewable, environmentally friendly approaches to everyday life while meeting our modern needs.
Since the Industrial Revolution, rampant pollution and the rapidly increasing use of unsustainable products and practices have taken a toll on our environment. As our natural resources deplete and our environment becomes contaminated with toxins, we face potentially irreversible damage to the earth and by extension, ourselves.
We must find environmentally sustainable ways to live that replenish and restore balance to the earth. This is crucial not just to our survival in the present, but also to our incoming generations’ ability to thrive long into the future.
How is hemp sustainable?
Hemp offers a sustainable alternative to unsustainable materials such as plastic, fuel, wood, and cotton. The plant is biodegradable by nature and even returns high amounts of nutrients to the soil in which it grows. It also:
- Takes little space to grow: under favorable conditions, a single acre of hemp produces nearly 8.7 tons of fiber – that’s significantly more usable pulp per acre than trees!
- Requires only small amounts of water to flourish: relative to cotton, hemp requires approximately 50% less water to survive each season.
- Grows in relatively unfavorable soil types: Not only does hemp grow well in poor soil, it even cleans toxic, radiation- and heavy metal-laden soil without compromising the plant.
- Prevents and combats deforestation: hemp carries a significantly higher concentration of cellulose than trees, making it a more sustainable option for paper and other products that contribute to the estimated 19 million acres of rainforests that are destroyed each year.
Hemp is a low-maintenance crop. This is largely because the plant is technically a weed, meaning it grows quickly and abundantly. It’s also naturally resistant to parasites, pests, diseases, and fungi, meaning farmers don’t need to use pesticides, fungicides, or other toxic chemicals to protect their hemp crops.
Every part of the hemp plant can be used to create everyday sustainable products. This includes the plant’s:
- Seeds: hemp seeds can be pressed into oil and used for biodiesel, cosmetics, supplements, food, and sowing.
- Stalks: hemp stalks can have their fibers extracted for raw fibers, hurds, tows, and dust. Fibers can be used for plastic, textiles, composites, and packaging. Hurds are often used for construction, insulation, biofuels, and animal bedding. Tows can be made into paper, and dust is useful for hydroponics and other agricultural purposes.
- Flowers, leaves, and roots: Hemp flowers, leaves, and roots can have their oils extracted and used as pharmaceutical compounds.
There is no part of the hemp plant that cannot be used. Plus, hemp produces little to no waste at all!
As we scramble to save the earth for ourselves and perhaps more importantly, for our future generations, hemp presents itself as a viable solution to many of our environmental woes. Moving forward with sustainable practices, we hope to see even more uses for hemp given its irrefutable status as a versatile and highly sustainable crop!