Why Hemp Is Better for the Environment

Hemp is an effective alternative material for making clothing, textiles, plastic, construction materials, fuel, superconductors and highly nutritious food, but using hemp instead of traditional materials can also be much, much better for the environment. 

Hemp, the No. 1 producer of biomass per acre in the world, is a clean alternative energy source that can help end our global dependence on fossil fuels. Biofuel expert Lynn Osburn estimated that 1.5 to 3.5 million acres of hemp could replace all of Canada’s fossil fuel demands, and it can do so without making farmers choose between food and fuel. Unlike biodiesel fuels made from soybeans, olives and peanuts, farmers who grow hemp for its fibers can still use its natural oils for fuel, and after extracting the oil, the remaining seed cake is a source of nutrition that is second only to soya bean in protein content. 

Because hemp grows faster than trees and contains more cellulose, estimates suggest a single acre of hemp produces as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees over a 20-year period, and the U.S.D.A. suggests hemp could replace 40 to 70 percent of all tree pulp used for paper production. The process of making hemp paper is also cleaner, significantly cheaper and produces a tree-saving product that is stronger and nearly three times as recyclable. As for making fabrics, an acre of hemp can produce 2 to 3 times as much fiber as an acre of cotton crops while using significantly less water and pesticides. 

Hemp seed has 34 percent more oil content than any other seed, and its oil is second only to whale oils in its quality. In fact, hemp oil has the same burning qualities and viscosity as No. 2 grade heating oil (i.e., the cleanest and most expensive) without any of the sulphur-based pollutants. 

“If someone is already growing hemp,” wrote UConn professor Richard Parnas, “they might be able to produce enough fuel to power their whole farm with the oil from the seeds they produce.” In other words, the same hemp plant used to make paper, fabrics and food can also provide the fuel to power the entire process. 

In its analysis of hemp, The Daily Nexus noted, “It is drought-resistant, making it an ideal crop in the dry western regions of the country. It can yield 10 tons per acre in four months, and because it grows at such a rapid pace, it chokes out other weeds on its own; it does this with little to no chemical fertilizer assistance. Incredibly, hemp seed improves the soil on which it is sown. Yield has also been known to increase readily with subsequent harvests, making it a remarkably efficient and cheap harvesting process when compared with other agriculture.”

In 2017, the Journal of the International Hemp Association highlighted studies that suggest hemp plants are natural pest repellents that “deter insects, nematodes, fungi and weedy plants” and repel mites, weeds, fungi, bacteria and protozoans. By simply utilizing hemp in crop rotation practices, the plant can improve the soil and help farmers more effectively grow other crops. By comparison, cotton plants grow on three percent of all crop-based land, but they receive 35 percent of the world’s insecticides and pesticides.

In 2005, the Stockholm Environment Institute’s “Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester” found that producing polyester requires up to 10 times more energy output and emits significantly more carbon dioxide (CO2) than cotton and hemp. Likewise, a kilogram of cotton requires 9,758 kilograms of water use, compared to as little as 2,401 kilograms for hemp. Cotton also requires significantly more land area for cultivation. In terms of their total ecological footprint, cotton represented “the higher end,” polyester the “middle ground” and hemp “the lowest… of the three textiles,” with the researchers declaring hemp “the overall best performer” for sustainability. 

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