Hemp Plastic: What It Is And Can It Solve The Menace Of Plastic Pollution?

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Every time we throw away a bit of plastic trash, it accumulates. And the bits discarded by 8 billion people now threatens to drown our oceans and overwhelm our lands. And we need to do something drastic about it and cut out this menace in our lives. And sustainable alternatives are the best solution. Hemp plastic is one such product that has proved to be an uncontaminated alternative to counter the terrible havoc that plastic is wreaking in our lives.

Humans have been slaves to a non-sustainable development model and are now paying the price for it. We are in the midst of a major ecological crisis but are yet to even recognize its threat, let alone formulate a strategy to counter it. It has been felt in the appreciable change in the environment, the terrible damage to biodiversity, and the contamination of land, air, and even the oceans.

Plastic pollution in the oceans kills more than a million seabirds plus around 100,000 marine animals each year. and most of them will be around for hundreds of years. Even worse a substantial part of it will enter our food cycle in the form of microplastics.

Most targets set in several international agreements to control the use and disposal of plastic are unattainable as few countries are interested in looking beyond immediate issues.

One solution would be to come up will immediate alternatives that will have the flexibility of plastic and be biodegradable as well. And hemp plastic is potentially just that product.

Plastics: From Savior To Villain In A Few Generations

The creation of Bakelite in 1907, the world’s first synthetic plastic transformed the way we lived. Plastic influenced every aspect of our lives and led to the birth of the disposable culture.

One-third of the plastic used in developed nations is for packaging. The global use of plastic has increased to 50 kilograms (110 pounds), per person each year.

The convenience that plastic has brought into our lives has been more than matched by the disaster it has brought along with it. We are now saddled with billions of tons of plastic in landfills, the atmosphere, and oceans that could take up to a millennium to decompose.

An estimated 200 kilos (485 pounds) of plastic ends up in the oceans every second according to estimates determined by Greenpeace

Hemp Plastic: A Modern Product Made From Materials/ Resources From A Distant Past

Hemp plastic has the possibility to be an important part of a plastic-free future. The material is a sustainable, ecological, clean, and renewable substitute for plastic. And it has the resilience to replace the usage of polluting plastic in many fields including automobiles, construction, design, fashion, packaging, construction, and a host of other fields. And with improvement, new potential for its use is being discovered each day.

Hemp plastic is made from a material that is not a modern invention or discovery. It has its roots in the past and promises a solution to our present problems that help us live a little better in the future. It has remained recognized for its multiple health and nutritional properties. It has also been a part of our everyday life in textiles, medicines, and food.

In a study to evaluate the comparative ecological friendliness of hemp, the plant scored on multiple parameters. It was found that help grows both with and without the support of irrigation, depending on the season, climate, and location.

Hemp is It has been found to have relatively limited requirement of any biocides, such as herbicides or fungicides. Its need for nitrogen to grow can be satisfied through the use of natural manure, which is environmentally advantageous.

Hemp helps to create biodiversity in the areas surrounding which it is harvested. the cultivation of hemp leads to the production of 3 forms of raw materials, fiber, seeds, and pulp. Hemp can be grown and harvested both by machinery and hand labor.

The fiber which is used to make hemp plastic and the oilseeds can also be processed through manual labor. It is the fiber that is the more useful of the three, being the most absorbent, resistant, and durable among fibers of similar vegetable origin.

Finding An Alternative In Hemp Plastic

Plastic derived from hemp is a durable alternative to regular plastic. And with more development, it could also turn out to be just as flexible and versatile.

Hemp plastic is becoming progressively visible in an increasing number of sectors. Coconut, flax, and jute are some of the other materials that can be an alternative to plastic in several fields.

hemp plastic

Hemp plastic has many of the attributes that can match plastic and can even be better in many aspects. The benefits of hemp plastic are not merely ecological. Hemp plastic, for instance, has long been used as an alternative to fiberglass in the manufacture of surfboards. It makes the material lighter than plastic ones. They are also more resistant and flexible and have commendable buoyancy and grip.

Innovation in hemp technology has become much more rapid. In the automobile sector, majors like, Benz, BMW, and Bugatti have incorporated hemp plastic into their products.

The 718 Cayman GT4 from the stable of Porshe uses fiber panels made from hemp that has been manufactured by Hempflax, a Dutch company.

What are hemp plastics?

Made from biodegradable, non-toxic hemp fibers, Hemp plastics are one of the most popular bioplastics in use today. They are being commercially produced as pure hemp fiber plastics or composite plastics.

Hemp plastics have high tensile strength, even higher than polypropylene. Henry Ford had created the first car made totally from hemp back in 1941. The only steel in it was the tubular welded frame. It also was capable of running on a mixture of vegetable oil and hemp fuel.

Ford demonstrated the strength of the material by a hack at it with an ax. It left no visible scar on the body.

Use Of Hemp Plastic In Injection Molding

The high-pressure infusion of molten raw materials into a mold with the aid of a screw-type plunger or ram is called injection molding. The material then solidifies after it cools down inside the mold to its desired shape. It has been found that hemp plastics are conveniently modifiable to adjust to the needs of plastic injection molding.

hemp plastic

Molds can be single cavity or multi-cavity depending on the product being made. Hemp plastic is set to take a great leap and enter the industrial production field. Fire-retardant forms of hemp plastics are being developed.

At present, there are several varieties of hemp plastics. They range from the standard types of plastics that have been reinforced with hemp fibers to hemp plastic materials. Some hemp bioplastic categories include

Hemp Cellulose

Among organic polymers, cellulose is more abundant than others. It is an essential portion of the cell walls of various algae species and plants. Though primarily used in the production of paper, it has diverse uses including the manufacture of various plastics that include cellophane, celluloid, and rayon.

Read: Sonali Bags: The Promising Biodegradable Alternative To Plastic Caught Up In A Bureaucratic Mess

While non-synthetic and organic materials were used in the manufacture of plastics in the past. With the advent of bioplastics, materials such as hemp plastics have attracted attention for their varied environmental advantages.

Cellophane, Celluloid, And Rayon

While rayon and cellophane are categorized as renewed or regenerated cellulose fibers, they produce similarly in the manufacture of rayon fiber or cellophane film.

Celluloid can be obtained first through the production of Nitrocellulose (cellulose nitrate), followed by its mixture with camphor to finally yield a solid, dense thermoplastic that is conveniently molded when subjected to heat.

Hemp cellulose is also extracted for the production of rayon, cellophane, and various other related forms of plastics.

Hemp has been found to contain between 65% to 70 % cellulose, which makes it a very promising source of the material. It also has a low environmental impact due to the material’s relative sustainability. In comparison, flax has around 65%-75%, cotton 90%, and wood 40% of cellulose.

Though hemp requires more fertilizers, it can be substituted with manure. But it grows faster than most species of trees and requires very low amounts of pesticides when compared to flax or cotton.

Hemp-Based plastics And Its Properties

Composite plastics have a polymer matric that is based on cellulose and also a variety of various synthetic or natural polymers. It also contains reinforcement fibers which can also be based on either synthetic origin materials or natural, composed primarily of cellulose.

Natural polymers are tar, tortoiseshell, shellac, and several tree resins. Natural fibers are sisal, jute, flax, and cotton. Inorganic fillers traditionally used include mica, talc, and fiberglass.

Though there are organic plastics, most have some element of synthetic elements. Thus bio-composites are traditionally a blend of natural fibers with synthetic polymers. Multiple combinations of polymers and natural fibers are used to manufacture bioplastics. They differ vastly in various qualities such as tensile strength, density, stiffness, and many other features.

These multiple factors are modified in the course of the manufacturing procedure. This leads to the creation of products just right for various applications which include biodegradable furniture, building materials, boats, musical instruments, shopping bags, car panels, and a host of other products.

Read: Plastic Food Packaging Deserves A New Look: The 3 R’s

Fibers of hemp help in the reinforcement of composite materials that impart high tensile strength, particularly the fibers of female plants. The fibers of male plants are softer, finer, and at times more durable, though they lack the resistance of female plant fibers.

Several biomaterials or bio-composites were developed totally from organic materials. This includes hemp which has been included as filling materials.

A study was done in 2003 to determine the tensile power of hemp fibers established that when it is alkalized using sodium hydroxide in 4-6% concentration, there is an increase in tensile stiffness and strength when it is added to a liquid polymer of cashew shell.

Hemp Plastic Is A Practical And Feasible Option

The conversion to the utilization of hemp as an answer to the destruction caused by plastic is one rising trend. The US has legalized hemp and so have a number of nations. It has been proved as a sustainable, clean, ecologically friendly, and renewable material. It has also be proved to be versatile. It has been also proven as a replacement for polluting materials used in automobiles, construction, the fashion industry, and designing.

hemp plastic

One remarkable feature of plastic made from hemp is the rapidity at which the material biodegrades. It has been proven that it can degrade between 3 and 6 months. Further, it can be recycled indefinitely. Hemp plastic is considered a bioplastic material.

As hemp plastic doesn’t involve the use of fossil fuels at any stage of production, it does not produce carbon dioxide during the process of decomposition. The cellulose content of hemp is 65% to 70 % which makes it an ideal material for plastic manufacturing.

The Manufacturing Process Of Hemp Plastic

The first requisite for producing hemp plastic is the production of a pure form of cellulose. Cellulose can be extracted from numerous natural resources including the hemp plant.

Generally, cellulose is not found in a pure state. It is instead found in a composite state with several other compounds. This includes lignin, hemicellulose, and several other polysaccharides.

There the primary requirement of manufacturers is the removal of non-cellulose material. This will lead to a form of pure cellulose that is required for the manufacture of hemp plastic.

But this process for the manufacture of hemp plastic is complex and long. But several scientists have made strides in simplifying the process. The researchers have strived to manufacture hemp plastic from biomass. They have identified cellulose as a prospective material.  

Researchers immersed the biomass matter in acid. It was done to disintegrate the crystalline structure of the cellulose and not convert it to simple sugars. The additive they used was trifluoroacetic acid (TFA). It is a milder form of acid than used in the biofuel process.

TFA was used to soak inedible waste material obtained from spinach, rice, cocoa beans, and parsley. Post several days of soaking, the volatile acid could be removed. What remained was a residue of plastic films and coatings with multiple properties. The materials, for instance, had tensile strength similar to several popular polymers. And even more significant was that the bioplastic degraded thermally at a temperature of 300 to 570F.

Read: Scientists Make The First Plant Oil Plastic In The World, Bypassing Fossil Fuel

Though the present technology has to make much progress before hemp plastic can replace plastic. And the volume required to be too enormous to make that leap which could put the biodiversity of the planet at risk.

But it has been proved that hemp plastic is stiffer and stronger than many types of plastic. Though there is still much progress to be made before it reaches the right tensile strength and flexibility for many applications. For instance, many essential materials, such as those used to pack blood used for transfusion, need to conform to immensely high standards. Hemp plastic has to meet such exacting standards before it is accepted.

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