Hemp – An Environmental Super Crop?

hemp and the environment

If you have been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I stopped drinking cow’s milk and found a much lower carbon alternative in oat milk that is tasty and healthy. Well I’ve now tried another milk alternative which is a hemp based drink and while it is a rather acquired taste, the carton did teach me a little about this wonder crop and how it is good for the environment.

So I thought I’d delve a little deeper and see exactly why hemp is such a good crop to grow and what sort of things it can be used for and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Growing Hemp As A Crop

There are a number of benefits of growing hemp over say corn or wheat or one of the many other staple crops and the benefits are not just to the environment but for the farmer too.

  1. Hemp grows extremely fast, in fact it is one of the fastest growing plants in the world and can grow to 20 feet in height
  2. Hemp can grow well without herbicides or pesticides so this overcomes the problems that are associated with widespread pesticide use and it brings down costs for the farmer
  3. Hemp actually suppresses weeds because it grows so fast and blocks out the sunlight reaching the ground
  4. Hemp has an amazing ability to actually clean up any pollution that exists in the soil. It was even used to help remove radiation from the ground after the Chernobyl disaster
  5. Hemp has remarkably long root structures which reduce soil erosion and actually help to replenish nutrient levels deep down in the soil
  6. Hemp can grow in many types of climate and soil although there are of course optimal conditions to achieve the greatest yield
  7. If soil quality is better than average and crop rotation is practiced, hemp can grow with little or no fertiliser making it cheaper for the farmers
  8. Hemp, even when grown as a monoculture, provides a better habitat for a number of animal, bird and insect species making it a crop that is highly beneficial to local biodiversity

Hemp Uses & Benefits

I was amazed to discover the number of uses for hemp, many of which I have been forced to omit to keep this post to a sensible length but if you really are interested in knowing more, I have heard good things about The Great Book of Hemp which I may invest in at some point.

So here are some of the most popular and most important uses for hemp:

  1. Foods – contrary to popular belief, hemp has none of the properties of the cannabis drug despite being in the same family of plant which means it can be used as a food.

    I have already mentioned the hemp milk that I tried and the seeds can just be eaten straight off with or without the shell.

    Hemp oil is so rich in omega 3, 6 & 9 that a single 10ml serving contains 94% of your daily recommended intake of omega 3. This is more than any other type of culinary oil. It also has half the saturated fat of olive oil and can be used in its place as cooking oil or as a salad dressing. There are also a range of mayonnaises and dressings available from a number of companies using hemp oil as an ingredient.

    You can also get hemp based pasta, flour, bread, butter (more like peanut butter apparently) and even lagers and spirits.

  2. Fabric and textiles – hemp is better for the environment than traditional fibres such as cotton but it is still under-utilised. It is possible, however, to buy various hemp based clothing products and you may already own clothes with hemp as part of the material as it can be blended with other fibres for various comfort and aesthetic reasons.

    Apparently hemp has an antimicrobial property and is highly resistant to mildew and rot meaning that bad smells are far less likely to linger and items can be worn more often without washing.

    They also say that hemp gets softer the more you wear it and it keeps its shape well.

    After all those selling points, I myself am on the lookout for hemp based jeans for when I next need a new pair.

  3. Building materials – I was amazed to hear that hemp can be used as part of a concrete substitute called hempcrete which has fantastic insulation properties. Hempcrete cannot be used in all circumstances and it does not have the same compressive strength as concrete so a supportive frame is needed when used in building.

    On the plus side, hempcrete can act as a carbon sink (i.e. can be carbon negative) as it stores the carbon from the plant fibre in the walls of buildings for many years to come. This is in comparison to the carbon footprint of concrete which some say accounts for up to 5% of total manmade greenhouse gas emissions.

    Hemp fibres also make excellent natural insulation which performs as well as the current alternatives (both natural and non-natural).

  4. Plastics – another use for hemp that I would never have thought of is plastic but apparently it is more common than one might expect with car companies even using hemp reinforced plastics for door components and dashboards.

    Hemp plastic can also be found in food packaging, bottles and toys. Hemp plastic is generally biodegradable (dependant on what other materials it has been mixed with) and it obviously does not require oil as a base component.

  5. Paper – yet another material that we humans use in to the extreme is paper but we have to cut down slow growing forests to do this. Hemp grows in 4 months and produces stronger, more durable paper that was (and still is in some places) used to make bank notes.

    Hemp paper can also be recycled 7 to 8 times compared to 3 times for wood based paper.

    In the 1800s, hemp was used in around 75% of all paper but now it is used far more rarely.

  6. Fuel – because of its fast growing nature and its excellent biomass production per acre, hemp could be used as a biofuel to replace the current fossil fuels we use now.

    I’m no expert in biofuels but I’ve heard many an argument against them as a genuine alternative to fossil fuels. From what I understand, millions of acres of forests have been and are being cleared to make way for biofuel plantations.

    I’ll reserve judgement for now and let the real experts battle it out to decide the fate of biofuels.

These are just 6 of the most interesting and important uses for hemp but there are countless more – some say there are thousands of different ways to use hemp!

We Should Pay Heed To Hemp

It seems to me that hemp has a significant number of benefits both in its growing and usage so I’m going to make it my aim to get hemp a greater level of support from the public and politicians.

I’m going to try hemp products to see how they compare with what I currently use and I’m going to try to contact a few big fashion retailers to see if they have any plans to integrate hemp into their future collections.

I think we should all take hemp very seriously as a material of potentially huge significance.

Do you own or use hemp products? Would you like to see more hemp products available? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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