Hemp is not called the wonder crop for no reason. It is possibly the most important plant on earth. It offers many different uses that promote a more sustainable world. Hemp products can be recycled, reused, and are 100% biodegradable. Industrial hemp is a very robust, competitive plant that can out-compete weeds. Its cultivation and usage has significant environmental benefits.
In a time when we are not-so-gradually moving towards the destruction of our planet, the need for sustainable alternatives has increased. While the world is busy thinking of possible alternative solutions, Mother Nature has already provided us with one. All that is left to us is to make the most of it.
What are sustainable practices?
Sustainability is defined as the ability to maintain a balance of a certain process or state in any system. In recent times, the phrase sustainable practices is used in association with biological and human systems. Sustainability is expressed in human organisation concepts such as eco-municipalities and sustainable cities, and for human activities such as sustainable agriculture and renewable energy.
For humans to live sustainably, it is imperative to use the Earth’s resources at a rate at which they can be replenished. But as is no surprise, the humans aren’t currently doing this. Let’s understand what sustainable practices truly mean.
The finest way to define sustainable practices is through the three pillars of sustainability.
Sustainability depends on three independent areas that are equally important–social implications, economic implications, and environmental implications.
Sustainable practices must ensure that global human rights are always respected. This spreads over areas such as inequality, poverty, social injustice, fair wages, and other human rights matters. True sustainability is achieved when farming and industrial practices must always leave a positive social impact.
The mass adoption of sustainable agriculture has been, for some part, put off by its economic effect. While the benefits of sustainability don’t always translate to swift economic growth, they do prove safe for the environment and mankind. Sustainable practices can only be adopted when they fuel economic development.
Sustainability is, more often than not, synonymous with environmental impact. And there is a good reason for this association. The Earth is rich but it only has so many natural resources that we can exhaust. To ensure our survival as a species, it is important to manage them carefully.
Therefore, producers, cultivators, and consumers must pay attention to the impact they are leaving on the environment. It then becomes obvious that we need to adopt renewable energy and sustainable agricultural practices, among other things.
Hemp — the Sustainable Crop
Hemp can, for the most part, alleviate the need for many other mass-produced modern raw materials. The large amounts of toxins and waste produced by fuel industry and other pharmaceutical products can be largely reduced by hemp. When compared to common resources (for example, cotton), the roots of the hemp plant not only result in environment-friendly fibres, cosmetics, fuels, and medicines but also protects the earth and enriches the land where it grows.
Hemp is a crop that leaves minimal or no footprint on the earth while addressing many of mankind’s present needs.
Growing Hemp — Environment-friendly Cultivation
Hemp is a more sustainable and eco-friendly crop than the majority of crops dominating the human cultivation today. While many people feel that hemp propagates are against traditional crops such as cotton, they fail to understand that we are for environment. Though these crops have been growing on the land forever, the environment of the land has changed and this has necessitated for a sustainable solution.
After its much controversial fate, hemp is beginning to the see the light of the day in people’s life yet again. And almost all the reasons for that are rooted in the crop’s sustainable and eco-friendly characteristics.
Competitive in Nature
Hemp is inherently a competitive plant that grows densely and literally chokes out the competing plants. Hemp naturally reduces pests and therefore does not require pesticides and herbicides.
Hemp is naturally resistant to pests, fungi, and diseases so cultivators do not have to focus on excessive amounts of chemicals for cultivating their crops.
Enriches the Soil where it grows
Careless agricultural practices extract water and nutrients from the ground without allowing the soil to replenish itself. This results in soil degradation and soil pollution which in turn results in deforestation as well as threatens the productivity and overall health of our food crops.
Hemp is a sustainable crop because it returns a significant percentage of nutrients back to the ground during the process of retting. This results in healthier soil that helps in decelerating erosion and keeps our lands healthy for a longer period of time.
Can reduce Carbon emissions
Industrial hemp is a high biomass crop that possesses the ability to sequester higher amounts of carbon through the process of photosynthesis. This carbon is then stored in the roots and the body of the plant. This carbon is then transferred into processed bio-fibre products.
Bio-products made from hemp are environment-friendly that can easily be replaced in compost or in landfills. Majority of hemp-based products are free of toxics, biodegradable, and renewable.
Requires less amount of Water
Industrial hemp has a large tap root that is capable of penetrating deep into the soil profile to pick up the water and nutrients required by the plant for development. This is a benefit because hemp can recover the nutrients that might otherwise be leached below the root zone and enter the groundwater.
Moreover, hemp’s deep roots open up the soil and enhance it for future crops. Hemp requires one-third of the amount of water required by cotton and similar traditional crops. This value considerably cuts down on the water we dedicate to traditional crops for clothing and textile needs all the while producing more comfortable and durable products.
Can be made into bio-fuel
Hemp can be made into bio-fuels which can easily be used in the existing transportation vehicles. Gasoline produced from hemp is 85% greener than petroleum gasoline. Hemp bio-diesel, as studies have found, are 97% more efficient than traditional gasoline (i.e. 97% of hemp oil can be converted to biodiesel) and can be used at lower temperatures than other biodiesels.
Carbon neutral buildings
Through its green concrete alternative, Hemp gives us an opportunity to produce carbon neutral building supplies including but not restricted to insulation, pressboard, flooring, wall, and concrete. Hempcrete is energy-efficient, non-toxic, and resistant to mould and, insects and fire.
Produces Higher Yield from the Same Space
One of the most interesting and beneficial characteristics of hemp is that it can grow in different soils and climates and thrives in small spaces. Multiple studies suggest that one acre of hemp can yield as much as 8.7 tons given the right conditions. This way, the hemp crop opens up a way for farmers to decrease their land usage without compromising on their yield or finances.
Can replace plastic
We are all aware of the way plastic is destroying the earth. The need for an alternate solution to plastic is supercilious to all other needs. Hemp helps us here too. Hemp provides an option to create a non-toxic and completely bio-degradable plastic that can be used in the stead of regular plastic.
A hemp plastic bottle degrades within 10 days of discard.
This is not the first time that the world is hearing of hemp plastic. In fact, Henry Ford built a car out of hemp and soy plastic in the early 1940s. In 2008, the Lotus Eco Elite employed hemp in its composite body panels and spoiler. And since, many car manufacturers have switched to hemp composites for different parts of their cars such as door panels, columns, seat backs, instrument panels etc.
Hemp and Deforestation
The timber industry has been paramount in the production of jobs and manufacture of products in the world. But this income and these convenient products come at a heavy cost to our environment. In order to cater to the demands of the timber industry, our forests are destroyed, streams are hurt, flora and fauna are killed, species are wiped out, and environment is polluted.
In the present time, more than 90% of world’s paper is made from trees. Almost 60% of the world’s forests are used for timber. This fills the natural water sourced with nitrates which leaves terrible effects on the ecosystem. This is not even the entire tip of the iceberg.
What can be the solution?
Cannabis or industrial hemp gives us environment-friendly products to replace timber. Hemp grows like other industrial crops but with fewer necessities and in lesser space. This means that switching to hemp would save our forests from being needlessly wasted thus saving our waters, wildlife, and the environment on the whole.
Not only will hemp offer a softer and better paper, it will offer more yield per acre as well. This makes hemp one of the very few sustainable crops that are not heavy on the producer’s pocket.
Hemp and Global Warming
Another battle that the wonder crop can help us fight is the battle against the rising temperature of the planet. Hemp begins sequestering carbon the moment it is seeded. Conservatively, hemp yields an approximate sequestration ratio of 1.5 units of sequestration per unit produced. That is to say, 1 ton of harvested hemp fibre should ideally sequester 1.62 tons of carbon dioxide.
Hemp can also sequester carbon back into the soil through a process called biosequestration. The hemp crop captures the carbon emissions from the atmosphere and on slow-smouldering, hemp can be used to create carbon-free biochar which can be mixed with other nutrients and returned to the soil.
When used in the form of bio concrete, hempcrete undergoes calcination overtime and absorbs more carbon dioxide from the environment.
Using Hemp — Environment-friendly Consumption
While hemp is a sustainable option for producers, it is a sustainable and healthier option for the consumers as well. As an industrial crop, hemp provides healthier alternatives to consumers. We have already established that hemp is free of toxins, does not contribute to pollution, and is completely biodegradable. But these are not the only reasons why hemp supports eco-friendly consumption.
While the products made from hemp are stronger, more durable, and biodegradable, hemp in itself can act as a nutrition storehouse for consumers. Hemp consumption is eco-friendly in the sense that the crop grows without any pesticides and herbicides, consumers lesser amount of water, and is a vegan product.
The fatty acid and amino acid profiles of hemp are identically aligned with the human DNA. Therefore, as a food source, hemp offers protein, omegas, and dietary fibre in perfect proportions for our nutritional needs. Hemp is naturally gluten-free and easily digestible in the form of seeds.
Hemp provides the strongest, most durable, natural, and long-lasting fibre compared to the alternative sources. The flexible characteristics of the plant allow for the creation of durable clothing, building materials, shelters, and innumerable products that can satisfy the human needs and wants.
Hemp’s Environmental Impact in a Nutshell
Pollution-free: Hemp is among the fewest plants that can grow anywhere, in any climate. It does not need fertilizers or pesticides and naturally fights against fungus, diseases, and weeds. It cleans up toxins from the ground and can significantly reduce chemical pollution.
Sustainable Agriculture: In addition to using zero fertilizers, hemp replenishes the soil where it grows with nitrogen, carbon, and other nutrients restoring the health and fertility of the soil.
Carbon Sequestration: Hemp grows quickly and absorbs carbon from the air storing it back to the earth.
Clean Industry: Processing hemp fibre for cloth and paper does not require any chlorine which is one of the major polluters.
Eco Fuel: When used as a bio-diesel fuel, hemp emits 80% carbon dioxide, as compared to fossil fuels, with almost no sulphur dioxide. The hemp fuel, therefore, does not destroy the ozone layer and thus generates less greenhouse gas. Hemp fuel also does not contribute to acid rain.
Water-saving: Compared to wood and cotton plantation, hemp requires 1/3rd the amount of water.
Land-saving: 1 acre of usable fibre equates to 4 acres of usable fibre of trees and 2 acres of usable fibre of cotton. Cultivating hemp could save the land cleared for agricultural means and help in deforestation.
Oxygen release: Hemp plants are proven to release a lot of oxygen given their high carbon sequestration percentage.
Durable Products: Hemp produces stronger fibre than cotton and other plants and can be recycled more number of times. Efficient Land Use: Hemp yields 4 times an average forest can. A hemp crop is harvested in 90 days as compared to 25 years taken by trees.
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