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From Petroleum to Hemp – a New Plastic is Taking the Market

by J.S. Haven

Petroleum products have saturated our world, with plastic being its most prolific byproduct. But things are changing – and hemp could be a leading factor.

Hemp Plastics

Usually plastic’s basic building block is petroleum-based cellulose. But hemp is perhaps the greatest cellulose producer on the planet. Hemp hurds – the inner core of the hemp stock – are comprised of as much as 85 percent cellulose.

One of the world’s oldest crops, hemp was harvested by the Chinese 8,500 years ago. Hemp remnants have been found dating back 6 millennia (6,000 yrs.). The first hemp planted in the U.S. was in Jamestown, Virginia, where growing it was mandatory.

Flash forward a century or two.

In 1938, Popular Mechanics magazine touted hemp as “the new billion dollar crop,” stating that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.”

In the early 1940’s, Henry Ford. of Ford Motor Company, created a hemp plastic car he dubbed “the soybean car.” Utilizing hemp and sisal (agave based) cellulose plastic to build car doors and fenders, this unique vehicle was lighter than steel but could withstand ten times the impact without denting. The material was as hard as some soft metals, biodegradable and recyclable.

Today a few companies around the world are using hemp plastic for a variety of products, including boats, car components and musical instruments.

Compressed hemp composite door panels, dashboards, trunks and head liners are being used by car makers such as Ford, GM, Chrysler, Saturn, BMW, Honda, and Mercedes.

One of the main advantages of using hemp for these products is cost. These composites are less expensive than fiberglass components. Hemp fiberglass replacements would cost 50 to 70 cents a pound. Carbon and glass fibers, which have both environmental and weight problems, cost from 60 cents to $5 a pound.

And because organic hemp based products are lighter, safer in accidents, recyclable, and more durable, practically all European automakers are switching to hemp based door panels, columns, seat backs, boot linings, floor consoles, instrument panels, and other external components.

Car makers have a few choices when it comes to sourcing these materials.

Australia has seen several businesses, including Zeo and its Zeoform material, that have produced a new, 100 percent biodegradable material made entirely from hemp and/or hemp and corn. With a unique strength, thees materials can be injection or blow-molded into practically any shape using existing moulds. These include cosmetic containers, Frisbee golf discs, etc.

Not to be outdone, North America’s Gagatrading.com’s Cannaparts hemp division is bringing hemp composites to industries around the world. Its line of Hemplyne products is aimed directly at the cannabis culture. Products to date include joint cones, grinders, rolling trays, seed tubes and seed containers. The company also plans to make gripbags out of fully biodegradable materials.

The possibilities for hemp plastic are immense. Industrial hemp, a currently illegal crop, could be the saving grace of the agriculture industry if the U.S. government decides to move it off of the Schedule 1 listing. Even environmentalists would likely approve. Hemp’s environmental footprint is significantly lower than its cousin, cannabis, as it doesn’t require the same level of heavy pesticides. And it certainly would reduce the level of fossil fuel use that traditional petroleum-based plastics entail. With so many other countries cashing in on the cultivation of industrial hemp and the huge variety of hemp-based products – that we’re allowed to import into this country, by the way – perhaps its time for the government to get its facts straight. And time for the U.S. to open up to the proven benefits hemp can offer.

J.S. Haven is a professional blogger who writes on a wide variety of topics for online venues. Haven can be reached at jshaven3@gmail.com.

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