Biodegradable Hemp plastic - why haven't we made the switch?
Plastic pollution is everywhere, you cannot escape it. A manmade ecological disaster that has no seemingly easy solution other than to cut back on or eliminate plastic in just about every area of our lives. But what alternatives are there to plastic? We have become so used to the convenience of plastic bags, plastic straws and plastic everything that it is difficult to change habits. It is the disposable nature of plastic items, the small things mainly, that has caused the environmental nightmare because plastics takes centuries to degrade and absorb back into the earth, furthermore plastics use oil and is made through less than eco-friendly practices. What is the solution? Is there one?
One of the answers to the plastic problem is hemp plastic. Changing to another form of material to mass produce the millions of plastic items we dispose of every day will not fix the problem that has built up in the last three to four decades, but it will slow its growth down. Hemp plastic is one solution on the table for moving forward, it is natural and degrades naturally and has many of the same properties as plastic made from fossil fuels. It has so much potential and yet its use and uptake has been remarkably slow, despite growing reports of just how bad our plastic problem is.
The automotive industry has made many strides to include hemp-based products, not only plastic, in the manufacture or cars. Coca Cola has toyed with producing plant based plastic bottles. The real holdbacks are currently cost and political inclination. Fossil fuels are heavily subsidised, and billions of dollars are generated for the globally economy year upon year. Hemp is still frowned upon and the drug industry is more regulated than subsidised. Because of the close links between hemp and cannabis legislation of the product is tight. The USA has legalised the growing of hemp and yet it is still not enough, the cost of hemp at all levels from growing to harvesting to manufacturing is extremely high.
There are some companies who are making headway into the global market and environmentally aware consumers are asking for hemp based or plant based plastic items such as straws and carrier bags. However, these handful of companies simply cannot compete when it comes to price and the volumes needed to make a real impact. Money is, at the end of the day, the issue.
The good news is that there are many companies around the world investing in hemp and plant-based plastics and other materials. Coca Cola is pursuing its path toward 100% plant-based packaging, at the moment they sit around 30%. Investment is needed in hemp farming, hemp processing and in adapting production techniques for the inclusion of hemp and plant-based materials – the properties of the hemp plastic are slightly different to those of conventional plastics.
There are other concerns too. While hemp-based plastics are more biodegradable than fossil fuel plastics they are still not perfect. Hemp microplastics still cause an issue in our oceans and the biggest challenge in terms of pollution is still not tackled by what, on the outside looks like the perfect replacement for conventional plastic.
The consumer is hungry for an eco-friendlier plastic, sales are proving so and yet because the consumer is better informed than ever before they are able to micro-analyse any so-called green product. With this is mind and the hemp micro plastic issue the penetration into the market, with current waste disposal methods such as landfill still being so prominent the mass penetration of a greener product is still far away. However, hemp is still seen as one of the possible solutions, if not the solution, to our plastic problem going forward. For thousands of years hemp has been used to make virtually every kind of construction and production material the world has known and maybe only now that it is almost too late are the innovative minds of this world taking it seriously.