Some environmental experts believe that the plastic pollution slowly destroying the planet is more destructive than the fallout effects of nuclear bombs detonating simultaneously across the world.
The problem is that the effect of plastic pollution is happening slowly and out of sight. And even when the impact of plastic pollution is shown to people, the natural reaction is to ignore it.
The plastic products that humans use daily are convenient. It’s inconceivable for the average person to imagine a world without plastic.
Our phones, hair combs, cable TV remotes, fans, utensils and plates, toys, containers, bottles, pen casings, and countless other products are made from plastic.
It may be too hard for people to consider how irrevocably destructive plastic will be to the world later when it is so convenient now.
However, a solution to the environmentally catastrophic effects of plastic has existed since the early 1940s – hemp plastic.
Hemp plastic is lightweight, biodegrades in months, ecologically friendly, and stronger than steel or plastic.
So, how is hemp plastic made? To add a more nuanced context, let’s first briefly examine how traditional plastic is constructed.
Related: Reduce, Reuse, Replace
Traditional Plastic Construction
The prototype manufacturing process for creating semi-synthetic plastic was first developed in the 1860s. John Wesley Hyatt created the first plastic polymer in 1869.
Hyatt was inspired to find a substitute for products made from dwindling ivory supplies.
The first fully synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was created in 1907 by Leo Baekelite. Baekelite’s creation is the modern model upon which all plastic is created, especially those made from fossil fuels and chemicals.
Plastics are also known as polymers or a long repeating chain of linked molecules. And it is this arrangement of molecules that gives plastic long-lasting durability and strength.
Plastics are created by heat and chemical manipulation of oil or natural gas and sometimes plant matter to a lesser degree. Fossil fuel plastic is refined into either propane or ethane. Then, propane and ethane are transformed into propylene and ethylene via a heat manufacturing process.
Various other ingredients and chemicals are added to the process to make plastic durable and long-lasting.
It is this property of polymers that also makes them a biological hazard. Since fossil fuel-derived plastics are made with synthetic elements, they don’t biodegrade quickly.
The plastic found in disposable diapers, plastic bottles, or the plastic holders that tie 6-packs of beer together can last for up to 450 years.
Some forms of plastic will never biodegrade.
Now, let’s look at how hemp plastic is made and examine its benefits.
How is Hemp Plastic Made?
The production of hemp plastic is a straightforward process relative to the manufacturing of traditional plastic.
First, as much cellulose as possible is extracted from hemp stalk, fibers, and seeds by pulping the hemp plant.
The hemp’s cellulose is then soaked in acid to break down the cellulose’s crystalline-like structure further.
This process also prevents cellulose from converting into simple organic sugars.
The hemp cellulose is then soaked for some time in water and chemical solutions to remove the acid. And then, the hemp cellulose is heat pressure treated to produce various kinds of hemp bioplastics.
In other words, hemp plastic is a natural polymer that could become the future of plastics and a natural replacement for traditional plastic.
Here are a few of the biodegradable plastic products that can be created via the production of hemp plastic.
Cellulose nanocrystals are organic and biodegradable nanomaterial made from cellulose created by the hemp plastic production process. Cellulose nanocrystals are also known as nanocellulose or nanocomposites.
Cellulose nanocrystals can be used to create various nanocomposite materials.
These include products like organic adhesives for wood, biomedical products, barrier films, nanopaper, battery components, electroactive polymers, and a lot more.
Hemp cellulose is chemically and heat-treated hemp fibers. Hemp cellulose has been historically used to make hemp paper.
But its use has been widely expanded in recent decades to include the manufacture of canvas materials, rope, bags, building material, and even food products.
Hemp cellulose is also used to create beauty and skincare products, dresses, jeans, shirts, hats, and even composite construction materials for buildings.
In recent years hemp cellulose has been used to produce cellulosic derived biofuels. Sometime soon, hemp cellulose may be an immediate answer to the world’s renewable energy problems.
Nanocellulose is a light, durable “pseudoplastic” that can be manufactured as a solid, liquid, or gel-like substance.
Nanocellulose can reinforce membranes, polymers organically, and paper to create eco-friendly and biodegradable bio-nano composites.
And nanocellulose is eight times stronger than steel and even stronger than Kevlar. Nanocellulose is lightweight, electrically conductive, and nontoxic. This pseudoplastic can also be manufactured to be highly absorbent.
Nanocellulose can be used to make bandages, wound dressing, and feminine sanitary napkin products.
Or it can be used in the manufacture of medicine, like pills since they can efficiently absorb active chemicals to be digested later.
The large-scale clean-up of massive oil spills could be quickly cleaned up with highly absorbent aerogel nanocellulose in the future.
Nanocellulose can also be a composite coating component in various kinds of cosmetics like nail polish, false eyelashes, and wigs.
Composite Hemp Plastic
Composite hemp plastic products are created by incorporating the merging of hemp cellulose with other organic or synthetic polymers to create a durable composite material.
In 1941 Henry Ford created an entire car made out of composite hemp plastic panels created by the heat pressing of hemp cellulose, straw, resin, and other materials. The hemp car Ford manufactured was harder than steel and could run on vegetable oil or hemp-derived biofuels.
Composite hemp plastic can be used to create a variety of solid and durable construction materials for cars, boats, buildings, and other industrial endeavors.
Hemp Rayon and Cellophane
Hemp plastic can be used to create non-toxic products to make clothing or biodegradable cellophane.
Hemp-derived cellophane may soon replace the traditional plastic film product we use every day to wrap food or leftovers. Hemp rayon can be used to make clothes, sheets, curtains, and various other fabrics.
The Hemp Plastic Revolution Begins Now
The world will begin transitioning from fossil fuel products to renewable energy and products soon.
That means that the profit incentive to make traditional plastic will wane in the coming decades. And there is already enough of it polluting the planet and its ecosystem now.
The time to join the hemp plastic revolution is now.
Related: What is PLA?