The Environmental Benefits of Hemp

There are many ways in which hemp farming is ecologically sound, and actually can benefit our environment. This is especially important now with the continuing escalation of issues surrounding climate change.

1. Hemp Requires less Water than Cotton

One of the age-old uses of hemp was fiber production for clothing, rope and sails for sailing ships.  In contrast to cotton, hemp requires 50% less water, (1) and needs half the amount of land to produce the same amount of fiber.  Cotton requires 5,280 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of cotton, or, about as much cotton to make one t-shirt and one pair of jeans.  Hemp only needs 80 gallons of water to produce 2 pounds of fiber (5).  And today, with the painful effects of climate change, and severe droughts being felt throughout the globe, hemp is the logical water-conserving choice to produce textiles for clothing.

2. Hemp Biofuels

Hemp can be converted to biodiesel at an efficiency rate of 97%, and burns at a lower temperature than any other type of biofuel, including ethanol and biogas (4).  Hemp can be used to produce biodiesel, which is made from hemp seed oil, and can be used in any conventional diesel engine.  Also, the stalks and the rest of the hemp plant can be used to produce “hempanol” and “hempoline,” which are the hemp equivalents of ethanol and methanol.  A 2010 study done by the University of Connecticut found that hemp can be grown in almost any type of soil, meaning that growing hemp for biofuels won’t infringe on the production of food crops (6).

3. Renewable Building Materials

Industrial hemp can be grown to make two types of fiber, something called the “fine bast,” which is used to make textiles and paper, and then the “hurds,” which are strong enough to be used to make the popular building material “hempcrete.”  Hempcrete is really sound-proof, and offers better insulation than concrete, and it’s non-toxic and mold-resistant (7).   Also, fiber boards made from hemp-based composites are more light-weight and stronger than fiberboard made from wood.  And, hemp homes have been shown be be very durable, there’s actually one hemp home in Japan that is almost 300 years old (8). 

4. Hemp can Absorb Pollutants and can Regenerate the Soil

Hemp is known for it’s ability to improve soil quality through a process called “phytoremediation,” that’s when a plant can remove toxins and contaminants from the soil and water.  Unlike other plants that can trap pollutants in their leaves and release them into the air around them, hemp holds pollutants in it’s leaves until it dies (3).  Hemp has been shown to improve soil quality by reducing the concentration of toxins and heavy metals, and was even planted to help clear up the radiation pollution caused by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 (3).  Hemp can grow in a variety of environments, and soil types, and that fact that it forms deep roots, can aide in preventing soil erosion.  Also, hemp increases the microbial content of the soil in which it grows, and the stem and leaves of the hemp plant are rich in nutrients, so that after the plant dies, it can be tilled under and help to fertilize the soil (4).

5. Hemp Supports Sustainable Farming

The uses of industrial hemp products are many, and as a result it can promote a more sustainable world.  It can grow in almost any climate and in any type of soil, eliminating the need of fertilizers in most instances.  Also, hemp products can be recycled and reused, and best of all, are 100% biodegradable, and almost anything that is made from corn, soy and cotton can be made from hemp (9)

6. Hemp Requires Low Pesticide Use

Unlike cotton or flax, which use 50% of marketed commercial pesticides, hemp possesses a natural resistance to most insects, which means that little, if any, pesticide use is needed.  This is a plus, because that in turn means that soil pollution is reduced as the plant grows (3).  As a result, hemp farming can significantly reduce the public’s exposure to toxic pesticides and herbicides (4). 

7. Hemp Prevents Soil Erosion

Industrial hemp has a large root system that can penetrate deep into the soil to pick up water and other nutrients.  This is a positive feature because hemp can recover nutrients that otherwise might be leached into the groundwater, and then unable to be utilized by plant roots.  In addition, the deep root systems of the hemp plant can open up the soil, and enhance it for future crops (3).    

8. Hemp and Carbon Dioxide

Unlike other plants, hemp absorbs more CO2 per acre than other crops, and some sources suggest that hemp farming can help reduce carbon emissions, and slow global warming (2).  Since hemp is 100% recyclable and sustainable, it won’t produce carbon gasses that can be emitted through composting or burning (4).

9. Hemp as a Rotation Crop

In order to maintain soil health and quality, farmers have been rotating crops since the beginning of agriculture.  In the US, farmers often rotate such crops as corn and soybeans, but with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers now can plant hemp as a rotation crop as well, and given it’s ability to improve soil quality, hemp can be a great choice (3). 

10. Hemp is 100% Biodegradable

Hemp is the number one cellulose producer on the planet, and it’s non-toxic and biodegradable.  This is especially important these days, with climate change, and reports of islands of plastics and trash floating in the world’s oceans.  Hemp can be a wonderful alternative to plastics, which are made from petroleum, and can take between 400 and 1,000 years to decompose (4).  Given the fact that hemp can be used to make a variety of items such as clothing, fuel, plastics, building materials, and is 100% reusable and recyclable, it can steer us forward to a more sustainable and ecologically sound future.

Resources

  1. Good Hemp. How is Hemp Good for the Planet?  https://www.goodhemp.com/hemp-hub/environmental-benefits-of-hemp-how-good-is-it/.
  2. Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. 2020.  Hemp’s Environmental Impact,   http://www.hemptrade.ca/eguide/background/hemps-environmental-impact.
  3. Ledger, Emily. October, 2019.  The Cannabis Exchange:  The Environmental Benefits of Hemp: Ecological Benefits, https://canex.co.uk/the-environmental-benefits-of-hemp-ecological-benefits/.
  4. Garland, Rachel. 2017.  15 Mind-Blowing Ways Hemp Can Impact the Planet

, https://www.green-flower.com/articles/industry/15-mind-blowing-ways-hemp-can-heal-the-world.

  1. Neville, Meagan. 2019.  Hemp vs. Cotton: 5 Reasons why Hemp is a Better Choice, https://wamaunderwear.com/blogs/news/hemp-vs-cotton.
  2. Buckley, Christine. 2010. Hemp Produced Viable Biodiesel, Uconn Study Finds, https://today.uconn.edu/2010/10/hemp-produces-viable-biodiesel-uconn-study-finds/.
  3. Pollock, Emily. 2019. Not Just a Pipe Dream: Hemp as a Building Material, https://www.engineering.com/BIM/ArticleID/19056/Not-Just-a-Pipe-Dream-Hemp-as-a-Building-Material.aspx.