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Hemp in harmony: Some researchers believe hemp has many properties that make it perfect for sustainability.

Friday 9 April 2010
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Our Future Planet investigates.

Reasoned argument over the value of hemp can often be tricky to achieve, polarised between die hard hemp and cannabis enthusiasts and sceptics regarding the arguments as woolly shirted, hippy doctrine.

The reality, as usual, is nowhere near as aggressive. For a start, a few facts surrounding the material do seem to indicate its worth within a sustainable agenda.

It appears industrial hemp can provide many of the raw materials we need as a society to function. Myriad websites list the uses: hemp food, hemp oil, hemp plastics, hemp insulation, hemp concrete, hemp paper, and other hemp composites.

‘Hemp is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, producing about ten tons of dry product per acre per year,’ explains http://www.hemp.com/. This is a pretty crucial fact. In a climate facing water shortages and rising temperatures, speed of production for sustainable materials is going to become key.

There are some pretty ingenious things that can be done with this material. Green Butts is just one company looking to make capital from hemp’s handy characteristics.

The firm makes sustainable cigarette filters, from a mixture of organic cotton and hemp. These can be combined with various seeds, so when users throw their cigarettes away not only will the butts naturally biodegrade, they will also grow into flowers if dropped on soil.

‘The duration of the degradation process is cited as taking as long as 10 to 15 years,’ explains Green Butts, describing breakdown times for cellulose acetate filters.

‘It is estimated that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts become litter every year. In the 2006 International Coastal Cleanup, cigarettes and cigarette butts constituted 24.7 per cent of the total collected pieces of garbage, over twice as many as any other category.’

Future characteristics

To some that might seem a limited application given worldwide drives to limit smoking, but the Government of Canada appears to be another agency putting its money where its mouth is.

On April 6, Inky Mark, Member of Parliament for Dauphin Swan River-Marquette, on behalf of the Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced government support to help Plains Industrial Hemp Processing Ltd. strengthen economic opportunities in Gilbert Plains.

“This is one more way that our Government is investing in innovative projects that will open new market opportunities and boost the bottom line of our farmers,” said Mark.

Under the project, Plains Industrial Hemp Processing Ltd. will build a hemp fibre processing plant. The facility will process up to 18,000 metric tonnes of hemp annually and generate new export markets for western Canadian value added agricultural products.

Federal funding of $3,375,000 is being provided through the Community Adjustment Fund (CAF) as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, and $1,400,000 under the Agriculture and Agri Food Canada Agri Opportunities Program.

It’s when cash sums and global governments become involved in projects like this that the wider implications for these kind of materials become apparent. ‘Hemp can be used as a short term solution to the climate change challenge, simultaneously increasing soil carbon, locking carbon into raw materials and replacing unsustainable raw materials across several industries,’ argues Hemp Global Solutions (HGS).

HGS offers funds and venture capital for hemp related businesses, aiming to drive investment into the material. ‘The average UK resident creates emissions of around 11 tonnes of carbon annually, which equates to approximately one hectare of hemp grown in the UK,’ continues HGS.

Combining this with the wider versatility of hemp’s uses than conventional agroforestry suggests it could become a key provider of global material needs while creating a valuable ‘carbon sink’.

It seems many potential uses fit effectively in with sustainability. Hemp Technology has, in March 2010, just launched Breathe.

Made from UK grown hemp and flax, ‘Breathe offers a renewable and low carbon means of insulating lofts, walls and floors.’ Hemp Technology claims. The firm points to a thermal conductivity of 0.039 W/mK, which it says performs better than many fibre products.

Other products from Hemp Technology include animal bedding, and in landscaping and erosion control systems. And there’s also potential for the plant to offer solutions to hunger.

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils claims to be the largest vertically integrated hemp food manufacturer in the world. Its products include Hemp Milk. Protein Powders, Seed Oils and Butters.

Analysing the arguments

Much of the anti-hemp campaign seems to centre around fears of legalised hemp production leading to a blurring of the lines, between legal plant cultivation for material use and illegal cultivation for recreational drug usage.

This however seems a pity as, if even a third of the claimed uses for hemp really stack up, then it does have potential to contribute to a shift away from resource inefficient farming and materials use to something with a potentially more sustainable future.

As the needs for alternative solutions to existing practices grow more urgent, it will be interesting to see how global governments and communities react to the debate.

What are your views?  Not sure? Read the resources below for more information. Add your comment below. We welcome your thoughts and proposals. Not a Planetary Citizen? Sign up to Our Future Planet today!

Resources:

A RENEWAL OF COMMON SENSE: The Case for Hemp in 21st Century America
HEMP
HEMP FACTS
Hemp and Marijuana: Myths & Realities - by David P. West, Ph.D. for the North American Industrial Hemp Council
CRS Report for Congress: Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity

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