Part I I – Hemp Plastic
By Dion MarkgraaffOne of the biggest problems the world is facing is the making of plastic out of planetary poisons like petroleum. This catastrophic crisis can be changed by the cannabis plant. As stated in part one, â€œCannabis composite made products are starting to take over many industries because of the low impact cost economically and environmentally of growing the plant and the superior results in the finished products.â€ This is also true when it comes to the exciting possibilities of making plastic out of hemp. In part two of â€œToday â€“ cannabis composites are cars, cases and more (like plastic), made all around the world,â€ NUG will examine the why and how hemp cellulose and fiber is taking over the plastic industry.
Most things around us today are plastic. Eco-friendly hemp can replace most toxic and costly petrochemical products. Cannabis is being manufactured to make biodegradable plastic products: plant based cellophane, recycled plastic mixed with hemp for injection molded products, and resins made from the oil, just to name a few.
Big Problem for People and our Planet
Petrochemical plastic is a big problem, not just in how it is manufactured, but even more that itâ€™s not biodegradable. The United States alone throws away more than 60 billion pounds of plastic every year that ends up filling landfills and/or are swept away in bodies of water. This number has grown from 4 billion pounds in less than 30 years. The worldâ€™s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tons in the 1950s to over 100 million tons today. One ton of plastics are equivalent to 20,000 two liter drink bottles or 120,000 bags. Americans use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour. Over 90% of plastic is not recycled, and besides the fact, recycling plastic has a low energy efficiency rate.
The problem is so enormous that there are huge plastic islands in the middle of all the major oceans all around the world, which are expanding constantly. The closest one to San Diego is a trash vortex that is an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific Ocean. In this island, there is an estimated six kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton along with other slow degrading garbage. It swirls slowly around like a clock with currents of choked dead fish, marine mammals, and birds that get snared.
The problem gets worse over time as these chemical plastics break into smaller and smaller poison pills for animals. Greenpeace says, â€œThe plastics can act as a sort of â€˜chemical spongeâ€™. They can concentrate many of the most damaging of the pollutants found in the worldâ€™s oceans: the persistent organic pollutants (POPs).Â So any animal eating these pieces of plastic debris will also be taking in highly toxic pollutants.â€ This poison soup â€“ a sea full of poison pills â€“ will continue to damage the whole food chain.
Scarier, even still, is the fact that most of the plastic garbage does not float and is not considered in these expanding islands. According to Greenpeace, â€œAround 70% of discarded plastic sinks to the bottom. In the North Sea, Dutch scientists have counted around 110 pieces of litter for every square kilometer of the seabed, a staggering 600,000 tons in the North Sea alone. These plastics can smother the sea bottom and kill the marine life that is found there.â€
A great resource to quickly understanding the enormous problem weâ€™re all facing is the documentary â€œAddicted to Plasticâ€. One of the many facts this film presented was that plastic bags in Kenya are so prevalent that they are called the national flower.
What is cannabis plastic? According to Wikipedia, â€œA plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids used in the manufacture of industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass and may contain other substances to improve performance and/or reduce costs. Monomers of plastic are either natural or synthetic organic compounds. The word â€˜plasticâ€™ is derived from the Greek (plastikos) meaning â€˜capable of being shaped or molded,â€™ from plastos meaning â€˜moldedâ€™. It refers to their malleability or plasticity during manufacture that allows them to be cast, pressed, or extruded into a variety of shapes, such as films, fibers, plates, tubes, bottles, boxes, and much more.â€
Hemp plastic is not a new development in industrial hemp applications. The earliest plastics relied on hemp as a component due to its high level of cellulose â€“ the substance that makes the walls of plant cells. These types of plastics are now known as â€œbioplasticsâ€ to distinguish them from petrochemical based materials.
Today, at least 25,000 tons of hemp plastic is being used ever year. The market is growing around 10-20% per year and we expect that political support for the natural fiber based plastics industry will assist this industry in growing larger and faster than it has to date. Hemp plastic is cheaper to produce and presents fewer health risks for workers. Hemp plastic is tough, durable and can be made without harmful chemicals. Hemp plastics are made from the combination of hemp and polypropylene, which are five times stiffer and 2.5 times stronger than its raw material polypropylene, thus reducing the use of petroleum products.
Whatâ€™s most important is the fact that hemp plastic can be biodegradable, making products that are safe and eco-friendly throughout its lifecycle. The whole product can be collected and reused. Lab figures show that hemp plastic reinforced polymer products can be reused as many as seven times. Even when the product has reached the end of its lifecycle, it can be collected and made into energy pellets for electricity generation, during which only water and carbon dioxide will be released when combusted.
Cannabis is the most efficient crop for bioplastics. Once the fibres have been removed from the hemp stalks, the hurds that are left over are 77% cellulose, making hemp the most efficient crop for plant based biodegradable plastics. Wood yields only 40% to 50% cellulose; cotton yields up to 90%, but cannot compete with industrial hemp in terms of harvest per square meter, speed of growth and environmental friendliness. Celluloid, one of the first plastics, was made from cellulose (hence the name). It was developed in 1869 as an alternative to ivory, supplies of which were becoming limited and initially used for billiard balls. Next time you have a big stem in your bag of medical cannabis, try to break it in half and youâ€™ll see the woody inner core (hurds), in addition to the strong fiber that is the industrial solution to our plastic problem.
A major pioneer in using the cannabis plant for plastic is Paul Benhaim, who is behind the companies Hempplastic.com and Hempowered.com. As an advocate for hempâ€™s many uses for two decades, Benhaim has spent over 15 years developing mixtures of cannabis and other materials for various products. From his original hemp plastic product in 1999, the â€œHigh Flyâ€ Frisbee, his company now sells CD music holders, bowls, eyeglass cases, handles for doors, toys, and a 100% hemp plastic didgeridooâ€™s â€“ no other ingredient or binders are used in this very special musician quality instrument (they even sell a music CD, â€œFields of Green,â€ using these hemp made instruments).
Hempplastic.com also sells the raw materials in different mixes in the form of pellets (granules) that can be used to make almost anything. The Hempplastic.com websites states, â€œWe specialize in two grades of bulk raw material suitable for injection molding. We also offer services to create specialist materials such as required by the electronics industry to be scratch resistant, fireproof, UV proof, biodegradable, compostable and more. PLA, PP, ABS and other starch blends for films are also available from our factory in China. We export globally and have a facility in Europe.â€
Hempplastic.com has been growing. In 2011, a new and larger production facility has allowed for more cost effective production of Hemp reinforced PP, Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) and Polylactic Acid (PLA). The hemp content in these new materials is usually 50%, though up to 80% is possible. The blend of hemp and PLA means the material is 100% biodegradable. Being the consummate cannabis fighter, Mr. Benhaim offers many educational materials for people to learn the incredible possibilities of using this eco-friendly alternative. He publishes a 52 page, â€œIntroduction to the Hemp Plastic Industry.â€
Mr. Benhaim lists the many advantages of natural fiber reinforced polymers: good insulation, dimensional stability at high temperatures, high thermal deformation temperatures, flame retardants, impermeability, possessing a stiffness and strength similar to tradition GFRP, can withstand long machine resistance time, low water absorption rate, high resistance to ultraviolet radiation, and demonstrates normal flow behavior â€“ making it the best substitute for glass reinforced plastic.
Cool and useful Products
One product our readers can get today is RAW Hemp Plastic Rollers. Thatâ€™s right; the company that has brought the new brown, non-chlorinated rolling papers has expanded their consumer and eco-consciousness to a line of plastic rolling machines. The company website states, â€œRAW has been trying for a few years to produce an environmentally friendly plastic to use for their rolling machines. After failed experiments with flax, canvas, and soy, a formula of hemp and recycled plastics proved to work. Made in a special factory in Germany, this â€˜eco-plasticâ€™ is used to create these amazing RAW rollers.â€
An amazing use of hemp plastic has been successful in holding back the tides in countries like Holland (which is below sea level). Hemp plastic rods (35,000) have been put inside dams and have proven to be the best solution for preventing soil erosion. These devices have been constructed with a prescribed degradable rate and, by the time the area has been restored, the material has dissolved and become a part of the environment.
Cannabis is yet again another solution to our world crisis (and time bomb) of crap. Thereâ€™s no denying that the petrochemicals being used to create plastic today are toxic to the environment and to the people who use them. They are also based on a limited resource that will not be available to future generations, and will be more costly even in the short term. It is clear that we must act in a global effort to support the development of biodegradable products for the sake of our planet and ourselves.
The mind boggles at the thought of the thousands of different products that will be made from cannabis when one considers the possibilities of composites and hemp plastic. We are on the dawn of a new era with the cannabis plant at the core of this global revolution. The transition in our society is based on what we are voting for with our consumption. Therefore, you and everyone you know are responsible for consuming more cannabis based products for a better future.