The benefits of hemp for the environment and its use in eco-friendly materials

Uses of Hemp and its Benefits

Do you believe that there is a plant capable of generating more than 10,000 consumer products? And what would you say if this plant had been forgotten during the whole 20th century, wouldn’t it seem absurd? As unbelievable as it sounds, this is all real. And that plant, by the way, is called cannabis.

Join me to discover the benefits and uses of this ancient plant, which seems to be one of the most promising crops to make this planet more sustainable. In this post on the occasion of the Environment Day, you are going to get a new vision about the ecological benefits of hemp.

Ecological potential of hemp materials

Hemp: the great forgotten of environmentalism

Cannabis has been the most widely used plant in the last 10,000 years of mankind.

The sails of Christopher Columbus’ ships and the first flag of the United States were made from hemp fabric.

Interestingly enough, the first dollar bill was made from hemp fiber, a very abundant crop at the time. And I say curiously, because a few centuries later, in 1970, the cultivation of hemp was banned in the USA, through the Controlled Substances Act (Controlled Substances Act). The reason for this was that hemp contains small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) .

This ban remained in place for several decades, but in 2018 the 2018 Farm Bill was enacted, which removed hemp from the list of controlled substances and allowed it to be grown again in the United States. For this reason, for many years, the plant was forgotten in the drawer of hazardous substances on many occasions, and in many different places around the world. The aforementioned prohibition caused a stigma about cannabis as a dangerous drug, which fortunately, we are now managing to reverse. But this has meant a delay in the research and production of economically and ecologically sustainable cannabis-based raw materials.

Who can get it into their head that there is a plant that can change the course of humanity, and we do not study it, nor know it well enough?

What can be done with hemp?

Well, you can do almost anything with hemp. From textiles, to plastics, paper, wood substitutes, food, building materials and biofuels, among many other uses.

Infographics ecological uses of hemp
Infographic: Uses of the hemp plant in different ecological materials. Hemp is one of the most promising crops for the production of ecological and sustainable premium materials and food.

Hemp materials are not only a more sustainable alternative, but in many cases are a better option than conventionally used materials.

And the best part is that hemp materials are not only an alternative, but are actually a much more sustainable option than those for conventional use.

The ecological potential of hemp is not limited to its use in the production of sustainable materials. Highly nutritious foods for human consumption are obtained from cannabis, cosmetics with cannabidiol , physiotherapy creams with CBD fodder for animals, and medicines.

Sustainability of hemp cultivation

Hemp is a plant whose cultivation requires half as much water as cotton. In addition, it produces three times the amount on the same surface area .

Adding the fact that it is grown without the use of pesticides, and that we avoid the use of transgenic plants, we can have a very important sustainability through this crop.

Potential uses of hemp and its ecological applications

Talking about sustainability, we start thinking about the huge environmental impact of our consumption and how we can change the course of the planet. And here, hemp applications play a prominent role.

Would it be possible to reduce plastic consumption by a more environmentally friendly alternative?

Last year alone, 360 million tons of plastics were produced, which will remain on our planet for 100 to 1,000 years until they decompose. Would it be possible to replace plastic, and all the problems derived from its high consumption? Yes, this technology already exists, and it is already being used.

Hemp bioplastics

With hemp biopolymers, also called hemp bioplastics, we find a much more sustainable alternative to plastic, where biopolymers can be used for three years, and degrade in as little as eighty days.

Hemp building material

And can it be built with cannabis? Yes, it is. Hemp is a key bio-construction material for a greener and more sustainable future.

In the future, constructions will be smarter, and will take into account insulation and energy savings, as well as the sustainability of the work, paying attention to the use of fewer chemicals and polluting materials.

This concept is called Smart Home, and they can make our lives and the planet’s life much healthier. The move towards this type of sustainable construction is already underway today, and the transition will be increasing.

Hempcrete or hemp cement

With water, hemp and lime, they can be made from the roofs, to the pavements of our houses. This material is known as hempcrete, from the union of the English words hemp and concrete.

Hempcrete is manufactured by mixing the inner bark of hemp, known as hurds or shives, with hydrated lime and water to form a mass. This mass can be poured into molds and allowed to dry to form building blocks.

Hempcrete is lightweight, fire and mold resistant, and has excellent insulating properties, making it a popular choice for the construction of energy-efficient buildings.

Could hemp replace wood?

One hemp plantation produces the same amount of fiber as four wood plantations.

In addition, with hemp we have the possibility of obtaining wood (composites) in a much shorter period of time than with tree planting. A 100-day crop, compared to an average of 15 years for timber trees.

Did you know that more than 70 billion trees are cut down every year, just to produce paper? In addition to this amount, trees are cut down for firewood, furniture and construction materials.

The massive and indiscriminate felling of trees reduces the biodiversity of our planet. If we can decrease the consumption of wood and paper for materials made from hemp, we will contribute to increasing biodiversity, which would greatly improve the state of ecosystems and the health of the planet.

What is hemp composite?

By combining hemp fibers with natural resins, we obtain composites, a very suitable substitute for wood. Hemp fibers are used as reinforcement to improve the strength and durability of the material, while the resin acts as a matrix that holds the fibers together.

This material is known as hemp composite and is characterized by being lightweight, strong and durable, and is used in a variety of applications such as the manufacture of furniture and construction materials.

Hemp as a substitute for gasoline: biofuels

And could we replace gasoline with hemp? I’m sure you can guess the answer by now. Indeed, yes! Hemp requires three times less space than, for example, corn, another source of biofuel.

Use of cannabis in the automotive industry

Apart from its possible use in the production of biofuels, hemp can also be used to produce materials for use in the automotive industry. Although cars made entirely from hemp are not yet very common, some automakers have used hemp in their construction to take advantage of its unique properties and improve the efficiency and sustainability of their vehicles.

There are already some cars that have been manufactured using hemp in their construction. For example, in 2018 BMW used hemp fiber in the door panel of its BMW i3 model. Hemp fiber is lighter and stronger than traditional fibers used in the manufacture of automotive door panels, which helps reduce the overall weight of the vehicle and improve its energy efficiency.

The use of hemp makes cars lighter and more environmentally friendly, while reducing the environmental impact of their manufacture.

Hemp-based foods: Hemp seed is a superfood!

We can also feed ourselves with hemp, and you should know that it is not a minor food. On the contrary, the nutritional nutritional value of hemp seeds is very high. is very high.

Hemp seed is considered a superfood. It contains 33% of proteins, being the richest food in proteins that exists -only surpassed by soybean-, and with all the essential amino acids. They are also very rich in phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc.

Hemp has a better digestibility than legumes, so hemp protein has a better digestibility than legumes. hemp protein protein exceeds that of soybeans, making it a vegetable protein alternative with great potential.

With this seed we can produce hemp oil which is considered one of the healthiest oils on the planet, due to its high content of omega 3 essential fatty acids, and an ideal ratio between omega 3 and omega 6.

Hemp fabric

From hemp fiber, a highly resistant vegetable fabric with excellent qualities can be extracted, which can be used for different purposes.

Hemp is used to extract more or less rustic fabrics, to produce rope, carpets, mats, but also bags, fabrics, shoes, clothes, pants, T-shirts,…

Cannabis fodder for animal feed

The main uses of hemp in animal feed include the production of animal feed, forage and feed supplements.

Phytoremediation

It should be noted that the ecological advantages of hemp are not limited to its use in the production of environmentally friendly and sustainable materials. The cultivation of the plant itself is beneficial to the ecosystem!

Cannabis phytoremediation is a process by which cannabis is used to remove contaminants from soil or water. Cannabis has the ability to absorb and metabolize a wide variety of toxic substances, including heavy metals, hydrocarbons and pesticides, making it an effective tool for environmental cleanup.

It has been demonstrated that the cannabis plant cleans, it was used in Chernobyl with very good results, and it is a very good alternative to be used to clean our planet.

For phytoremediation with cannabis, the plant is grown in contaminated soil or water and allowed to grow until it absorbs the contaminants from the environment. It is then harvested and removed from the contaminated site for safe disposal. Cannabis can also be used to decontaminate wastewater or to reduce air pollution.

Here it is important to note that cannabis crops intended for the utilization of hemp flower or for the production of cannabidiol oil are not cultivated for this purpose, as they could contain high concentrations of toxic substances that should not be ingested or inhaled.

A vision of a more sustainable future with hemp as a protagonist

I hope this quick overview of some of the myriad uses of hemp has helped you learn more about the full potential of the plant. Cannabis sativa plant . Cannabis should be considered as a tool for change and its research should be promoted and its uses disseminated.

We consumers are the ones who are going to generate this change in the planet, and therefore, it is simply a decision of attitude to change our consumption and thus the planet in which we live. Hemp is presented as a sustainable alternative to change this course. Do you want to be part of the change in this process?

Rubén Valenzuela
Ingeniero agrónomo e industrial experto en cannabis

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