The Many Uses of Hemp: Plastics, Concrete & Paper are Just the Beginning
In this post:
- The history of hemp
- The many uses of hemp
- Cotton vs. hemp
- Hemp biofuels
- Hemp building & construction
- Hemp food & nutrition
Hemp might seem like a new trend due to the fact that its famous therapeutic compound, CBD, was barely on the radar 3 years ago. But hemp’s history dates back thousands of years and spans the globe, with known uses that include jewelry, food, and fabrics. Additionally, in the early days of the United States, hemp was widely used in textiles and construction for its durability, lightweight nature, and superior performance compared to other natural resources.
So, when it comes to hemp, what’s old is new again as we witness the reemergence of a valuable commercial asset with the potential to replace traditional materials like cotton, plastics, building materials, and so much more.
Here we review the list of hemp uses that could disrupt several multibillion-dollar industries while also providing a better solution for the planet and every living being that relies on it.
The History of Hemp
Hemp stalks are known for their incredible yield of fiber, which can be used for everything from textiles and clothes to paper and fuel. Hemp seeds, which gather around the heads of the plant, are great sources of oils and grains that can be used in animal feed, human food, cosmetics, and supplements. From stalk to seed, hemp has been a valuable resource for centuries, and it has been used in the U.S. since before the Revolutionary War.
In fact, presidents Washington and Jefferson both grew hemp, according to the Hemp Industries Association. But that all started to change in 1937, when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which implemented prohibitive tax policies on the sale of hemp. Following the law’s enactment, its principal supporter, Harry Anslinger, began crusading against hemp across the globe.
But the U.S. was still importing hemp from Japan and growing the plant domestically to support the military during World War II. However, as soon as the war ended, the government shut down all processing plants, and the industry was paralyzed.
In 1970, hemp was further vilified when the government included it under the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This meant hemp was federally banned and designated as a highly dangerous drug, despite the fact that it does not contain enough THC to get the user high.
From 1970 until the recent 2018 Farm Bill, hemp remained a Schedule 1 federally illegal substance, without any regard for its wide-scale industrial and commercial value. Luckily, we’re living in the post-Farm Bill era, where the ban is lifted and we are free to utilize hemp once again.
The Many Uses of Hemp
Hemp’s Main Uses
Textiles: Cotton vs. Hemp
Cotton may be the king of fiber due to its global domination and low cost of production, but it’s not necessarily the most efficient or the highest-quality option. Compared to hemp, cotton requires up to 14 times more water to grow. Additionally, cotton alone is responsible for around 14% of worldwide pesticide use. This is an extremely high cost to the environment, and brings risks to human health along with it.
In fact, a recent report noted that nearly 42% of cotton farmers had reported signs and symptoms of pesticide poisoning. Cotton also takes more time to grow and produces fewer crops per acre. While hemp is ready to harvest in 70 to 120 days, cotton takes up to 180 days.
Moreover, cotton farmers must clear up to 3 acres of land to produce the same amount of plants that hemp could produce in a single acre.
The resulting hemp-fiber fabrics are also much stronger, more absorbent, and more insulating than cotton. Hemp maintains its structural integrity better than cotton, and it’s also rougher in texture. Its durability makes hemp a perfect material for fabrics like sofa upholstery because it maintains its original shape and size for a much longer period of time.
But that same quality may also make hemp less ideal for clothes because it does not provide the softness and give that many people desire. Lastly, hemp fibers have large surface areas, which makes them highly absorbent. That means hemp fibers uphold dye very well and maintain vibrant color longer.
So, why haven’t we all made the switch yet?
For starters, 100% pure-hemp jeans are simply not the most comfortable option. That’s why we’re seeing brands like Levi produce sustainable hemp-and-cotton hybrid clothing. But more importantly, hemp is still too expensive, and therefore not a viable replacement for cotton.
Until hemp production rises closer to the level of cotton and becomes globally mainstream, it will remain a fraction of the textile market.
Nearly a century ago, Henry Ford built an entire car out of hemp plastic that ran on hemp fuel, showing the major potential for this environmentally friendly crop to power our world. If only Ford had been free from the shackles of the Marijuana Tax Act. But as history went, hemp growth was halted in the decades that followed Ford’s creation.
Luckily, today’s many innovators are picking up where Ford left off. Hempearth, a Canadian cannabis firm, recently designed the world’s first plane made from and powered by 100% hemp oil. The plane has a wingspan of 36 feet, and can hold one pilot and four passengers—not exactly ready for commercial flight, but it’s definitely a start and a major step in the right, renewable direction. In a time of oil wars, rising prices, global warming, and oil spills, hemp represents hope for the future of renewable energy.
According to the National Hemp Association, hemp biodiesel, an ester-based oxygenated fuel made from the oil of the pressed hemp seed, has profound benefits:
Hemp biodiesel benefits
- Only alternative fuel that runs in any conventional, unmodified diesel engine
- Renewable, natural, and domestic source of energy, which reduces reliance on foreign fossil fuels
- Safe to handle and transport because it is as biodegradable as sugar
- 10 times less toxic than table salt
- 11% oxygen by weight and contains no sulfur
- Can extend the life of diesel engines
- Meets requirements of the Energy Policy Act
Hemp Building and Construction Materials
Eighty years after Ford’s hemp bioplastic Model T car and about a year after the Farm Bill passed, Jay Leno debuted the world’s first carbon-negative car. Made of hemp plastic, Leno’s car is lighter than fiberglass and 10 times stronger than steel. Luckily, it’s not only effective but also safe for the environment.
Bioplastics, like those used in Leno’s car, are plastic materials made from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats. These materials have their challenges but represent a major potential to cure the plastic pandemic, which has clogged landfills and polluted Earth. According to the World Economic Forum, if we don’t find a suitable replacement for plastic use, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight by 2050.
Yikes. With that said, hemp plastics are currently selling at more than double the market price of petroleum, according to The Hemp Mag, so we may have to wait a while before hemp can save the world.
Heavier cars, trucks, and planes require more fuel than lighter-weight vehicles. That’s why hemp might serve as an effective alternative to standard materials such as aluminum and fiberglass, which we use to produce most vehicles today. Additionally, hemp is nontoxic, carbon-neutral, sustainable, requires less water, and has almost no environmental impact.
Hempcrete is a mixture of hemp pieces combined with lime, sand, or pozzolans used for construction and insulation as a replacement for traditional concrete. Concrete is generally brittle and requires expansion joints, while hempcrete is crack-resistant, and Earth-friendly to boot. Hempcrete actually has a negative carbon footprint, which means it absorbs more CO2 than it adds to the environment.
Hemp Food and Nutrition
Hemp seeds contain a wealth of nutrients, such as healthy fats, acids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and more than 30% fat (the good kind), which includes essential fatty acids, omega-6s, and omega-3s. They are also a potent source of minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, and zinc. In terms of protein content, hemp seeds are similar to chia seeds and flaxseeds, according to Healthline.
While hemp seeds do not have any proven medical value, the nutrients they contain are also linked to vast health benefits, from heart health and skin rejuvenation to joint strength and digestion, to name a few.
How to consume hemp seeds
- Raw, cooked, or roasted
- Hemp seed oil
Before Going Mainstream...
The jury has deliberated, and the courts have ruled: Not only is hemp fully legal to grow, sell, and purchase, it’s also a highly beneficial natural plant. From stem to stalk, and seed to flower, hemp can finally reemerge as a widely used cultural resource, known for its quality, sustainability, and neutral carbon footprint. In its short time back in the legal sphere, hemp products have already begun to crowd the market of supplements and skincare.
This is great news, but what about its ability to disrupt the fuel, cotton, and construction industries that so badly need reform? That might take more time, along with higher production and a commitment by industry leaders to shake up the status quo. But no matter how long it takes, the hemp renaissance is inevitable.
About ACS Laboratory
ACS Laboratory is the largest ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accredited, DEA registered, CLIA certified hemp/cbd and cannabis testing facility in the United States. It is a clinical-grade operation that has been continuously refining hemp testing methods for 10+ years. The team at ACS Laboratory is committed to elevating the hemp and cannabis industry by providing a reliable, consistent source of testing.