Paper is everywhere. From printing, to packaging, decorating, and currency, no one can escape from paper. There is no denying that paper is quite important in today’s world, but there are major issues with the conventional paper used today, most important of which is its sustainability. Our usual methods of making paper are shown to be quite unsustainable and as paper demand increases, there is a call for innovation for this valuable resource. Thankfully, there is a great way of creating sustainable paper, hemp.

Current methods of creating paper involve the use of raw wood [2]. The process would involve converting wood into pulp by separating the wood fibers (or cellulose fibers) to create a solution that would be converted to various types of paper [2]. Without boring you too much, the remainder broadly involves cooking, washing, and screening the pulp [2].

The Problem

The main issue with this process is the environmental impact suffered. First of all, creating paper requires a significant amount of wood, as only 50% of the material from wood is converted to pulp [2]. This means there needs to be excess wood than is actually utilized, which requires cutting down a substantial amount of trees, leading to an immense amount of wood-waste. Even worse, the destruction of forests means subsequent animal habitats that reside in the forests see their homes and environments destroyed, many of die as a result of this environmental interference [2].

Experts from WWF claim that humanity has killed over 53% of all forest animals on the planet between 1970 and 2014, a majority of which died due to logging. As of today, the percentage of total forest land on earth is at its lowest, and with the increasing demand for paper, the trend threatens to increase, unless we can find a sustainable choice non-wood materials[1].

Paper Processing on HempFederation
Wood vs. Hemp Infographic on Hemp Federation

The Solution

In comes Hemp. You may ask, how does hemp compare to wood? The hemp plant can grow to significant sizes relatively quickly (growing up to 5m tall), and its plant fibers can be harvested to create paper [1]. Its fibers can be converted to pulp further towards paper similar to the process of wood, but also requires some hurd as a filler [1]. Since it contains more cellulose, the yield of pulp from hemp is 70% higher than wood per dedicated acre [1].

Considering the growth rate of hemp compared to wood (90-120 days vs. 10-20 years), hemp is more accessible for fiber harvesting [3]. Considering the high yield and fast life cycle of hemp, hemp can yield significantly more paper than wood pulp [3]. Best of all, no forests need to be destroyed, as hemp is best grown in open, plains conditions [1]. With the data shown, it can be said that hemp is quite sustainable and can yield a lot of material. Furthermore, Hemp has incredible carbon sequestration properties, with hemp reportedly able to absorb up to 15t of CO2/acre.

Basic Carbon Sequestration by HempFederation

How Do We Move Forward?

So, if hemp is that much better than paper, why hasn’t hemp replaced wood-pulp paper yet? The short answer is the cost of processing. This is due to the fact that legacy infrastructure in the paper industry is set up to accommodate to wood-pulp, meaning hemp processing costs are significantly higher than that of wood-pulp[4]. Despite high production costs, hemp-derived paper can still be used in blends with other materials for sustainable paper and can fulfill the needs of niche paper markets like filtration paper and rolling paper [4]. Pure Hemp is a company that uses Hemp to create eco-friendly and sustainable rolling paper.

Paper Mill on HempFederation

Overall, hemp keeps proving to people why it can step into the role of replacing the wood in creating not only high-quality paper, but paper that is sustainable and friendly to the environment.

The future of hemp and sustainability in general looks to be promising!

——————————————————————————————————————————-

References

[1] Bowyer, J. L. (2001) Industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) as a papermaking raw material in Minnesota: Technical, economic, and environmental considerations. Department of Wood & Paper Science Report Series.

[2] M’hamdi, A. I., Kandri, N. I., Zerouale, A., Blumberga, D., & Gusca, J. (2017) Life cycle assessment of paper production from treated wood. Energy Procedia 128, 461-468.

[3] Shpendi G., (2018) Environmental Impact of HEMP (Cannabis Sativa L.). Häme University of Applied Sciences 13.

[4] Crini, G., Lichtfouse, E., Chanet, G., & Morin-Crini, N. (2020) Applications of hemp in textiles, paper industry, insulation and building materials, horticulture, animal nutrition, food and beverages, nutraceuticals, cosmetics and hygiene, medicine, agrochemistry, energy production and environment: a review. Environmental Chemistry Letters 18, 1451-1476.