Let’s get one thing clear, marijuana is arguably the single most beneficial plant known to humans. Whether you’re using it for industrial or medical purposes, the crop is easy to grow, not harmful to people or the environment, and highly profitable. With that being said, I’m going to dive into the beneficial aspects of growing hemp (an off-breed of the marijuana plant), primarily in concern to how we can harvest it to grow paper.
As a society, we are on the right path in terms of legalizing marijuana for medicinal and even recreational uses, but we need to go one step further and prioritize hemp farming in terms of how we make paper. If we can accomplish this, great things will happen. But before I dive into the positive aspects of this lucrative plant, I am going to give you a background of hemp farming, as well as how we have been getting our paper for hundreds of years.
“Make the most of the hemp seed, sow it everywhere.” – George Washington. Washington and Thomas Jefferson alike were hemp advocates. They both grew hemp, and they both, along with several other presidents, realized the massive potential for this plant.
Before its ban in 1937 (read my article on the history of marijuana for details) hemp was a frontrunner in the manufacturing sector of America’s economy. Here’s a brief list of what can be produced by growing hemp:
- lubricating oils
- plastic substitutes
- Lubricating oil
- Shoe materials
- Wood products
Marijuana was banned for this very reason: it does everything. From curing diseases to manufacturing many everyday products, it is truly an amazing plant. From an economic point of view, it makes sense to ban the substance if you are an owner of a pharmaceutical company. They must have asked themselves, “why keep marijuana legal if we can make ten times the profit by selling ten different types of drugs for every symptom the plant cures?”. This is exactly what they did. And this is exactly why you have ten different types of ADHD and anxiety medications to choose from at your pharmacy instead of ten different types of anxiety-helping weed strains.
Aside from marijuana’s health properties, hemp’s positive environmental impact is something to marvel at. Not only is it cheaper to produce hemp for paper and clothing manufacturing, but it is much more environmental. Let’s take a look at the statistics.
- Hemp can be substituted for cotton to make textiles. Hemp fiber is 10 times stronger than cotton and can be used to make all types of clothing. Cotton grows only in warm climates and requires enormous amounts of water. Hemp requires little water and grows in climates all around the globe.
- Hemp naturally repels weed growth and hemp has few insect enemies. Few insect enemies and no weed problems means hemp requires no herbicides and few or no pesticides. While Cotton requires enormous pesticide use. 50% of all pesticides used in the U.S. are used on cotton. Substituting hemp for cotton would drastically reduce pesticide usage.
- Hemp produces twice as much fiber per acre as cotton! An area of land only 25 miles by 25 miles square (the size of a typical U.S. county) planted with hemp can produce enough fiber in one year to make 100 MILLION pair of denim jeans! A wide variety of clothing made from 100% hemp (pants, denim jeans, jackets, shoes, dresses, shorts, hats) is now available.
- Building materials that substitute for wood can be made from hemp. These wood-like building materials are stronger than wood and can be manufactured cheaper than wood from trees. Using these hemp- derived building materials would reduce building costs and save even more trees.
- Most hemp-derived products are non-toxic, biodegradable, and renewable.
- Hemp produces more biomass than any plant that can be grown in the U.S. This biomass can be converted to fuel in the form of clean-burning alcohol, or no-sulphur man-made coal. Hemp has more potential as a clean and renewable energy source than any crop on earth.
What is most intriguing and possibly most beneficial to society and the environment, is hemp’s potential to replace trees as the world’s number one producer of paper.
The potential of hemp for paper production is enormous. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, one acre of hemp can produce 4 times more paper than one acre of trees. All types of paper products can be produced from hemp: newsprint, computer paper, stationery, cardboard, envelopes, toilet paper, even tampons.
Remember: There is no other tree or plant species on earth capable of producing as much paper per acre as hemp
Furthermore, trees must grow for 20 to 50 years after planting before they can be harvested. While hemp grows 10 to 20 feet tall and it is ready for harvesting after just four months. Substituting hemp for trees would save forests and wildlife habitats alike, as well as become a more profitable way of producing paper, all while taking away from harmful CO2 emissions that occurs when cutting down forests.
Not to mention, hemp breathes in 4x the carbon dioxide (CO2) of trees during it’s quick 12-14 week growing cycle.
With all the great things being said about hemp, it only makes sense to analyse our current method of paper production: deforestation.
Deforestation is defined as an act of clearing out all trees in an area for human needs. When we clear these trees away, we are hurting our planet in numerous ways, here’s a few:
- Exposes soil to heat and rain: When forests are cleared, it exposes the ground to the hot sun. This in turn, makes the soil dry up and less fertile. Even if trees were planted directly after a forest being cut down, it would take a very long time for them to grow back due to the negative impact on the surrounding soil.
- Pollutes the air with CO2: When forests are cut down, not only does carbon absorption cease, but also the carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere as CO2 if the wood is burned or even if it is left to rot after the deforestation process.
- Kills ecosystems: Cutting down forests disrupts the fragile ecosystems that are heavily reliant on trees. Millions of species around the world rely on forests to survive, and when we take them away, we disrupt their way of live, and end up killing thousands of animals.
- Speeds up global warming: Trees play a critical role in absorbing the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Fewer forests means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere—and increased speed and severity of global warming.
It is estimated that more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere due to deforestation, mainly the cutting and burning of forests, every year. This is a large contributor to global warming, and can be controlled if we switch from trees to hemp for at least paper production.
It is essential to our planet’s health we make the switch from forests to plants in terms of the production of paper and other manufactured goods.
As a society, we need to move past the negative stigma attached to marijuana, and begin to realize how this plant can benefit society in countless ways. We need to implement marijuana in pharmaceutical, manufacturing, and educational industries.
If we can properly utilise hemp and cultivate it on a mass scale, we can cut down on millions of tons of CO2 emissions annually, all while maintaining our world’s forests and animal habitats.
Just take a look at this graph. Notice the insane increase in annual CO2 emissions globally. This is a cumulative effort between the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, alongside natural sources.
If we can cut deforestation out of the equation, we can cut down on a large portion of these emissions, and potentially see this graph take a more realistic rise.
It’s sad to see that we aren’t taking care of our planet. We are tearing down ecosystems just for our own selfish profit, all while polluting the Earth.
It is time for us to revert back to old manufacturing strategies and make hemp production a primary manufacturing tool.
It is time that we take climate change serious, and begin to implement laws that act in favor of protecting our planet, not the pockets of the elite.