How can Bio-friendly Hemp Plastic Relieve Eco Guilt?

I first got turned on to hemp plastics after seeing a picture of a chair made from the stuff.

Stylish, glossy, beautiful curves, gorgeous colour.  It was something.  I even saved that picture.

A hemp chair; a chair made of hemp
This is not that chair, but look at it.  How cool is that?

Hemp plastics, or bio plastics, are not a new thing.  According to the Hemp Museum in Amsterdam, hemp plastics were first developed in 1869 in response to dwindling ivory supplies for billiard balls.  That’s right, billiard balls.  After that, manufacturers started producing all kinds of things with hemp plastic such as packaging materials, tubing, football helmets, celllophane.  (1)

Hemp plastic is made from the part of the plant that’s left over after the fibre have been removed from the hemp stalk.

A pile of hemp hurds

They’re called hurds.  The leftover hurds are 77% cellulose, the primary ingredient for bioplastics.  Extracting the cellulose from the hurds requires chemical and enzymic treatments and shear mechanical force.

Once that’s done, the hemp cellulose is mixed in with a plasticizer like glycerine.  So now the long chain polymer molecules of the hemp cellulose is surrounded by the smaller, smooth plasticizer molecules.  You can see how this gives the plastic flexibility and strength.  (2)

This is a very basic description of the bio plastic making process.  Of course, there are many recipes based on the desired end product.  The applications are mind bogglingly endless.

Recipe box

The kicker here is the environmentally friendly aspect of hemp plastics.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the massive amount of non-biodegradable plastic floating in the Pacific ocean.  Well, the chunks that break off into ever smaller bits are comprised of toxic petrol chemical products.  This effects the food chain and we’ll get back what we throw out.

The solution, however, is easy.  We could mitigate this life threatening situations with the use of bio plastics.  This reason alone should have every politician begging other lawmakers to allow bioplastics only.  Hemp bioplastics are biodegradable and recyclable.  So, if it ends up in the ocean it doesn’t add toxins and if it ends up at the dump it doesn’t add toxins.  (Hold your applause, we got recycling in our town last year).   And it doesn’t cost a whole lot more to produce than the plastics made from petroleum.  (3)

Growing more hemp and inspiring green manufacturing in Canada can help reduce global pollution, air, land and sea.  The hemp plant, it bear repeating, is one of the highest yielding cellulose producers of the plant kingdom and gobbles large amounts of carbon dioxide in it’s growth stage.  (3)

It’s leaves nutrient rich soil after growth and all parts of the plant have useful applications.

Pioneers of the hemp plastics revival are manufacturers in the automotive, packaging and building sectors.  The European Union is showing a two digit growth in the bio plastics sector with companies like Faurecia, one of the largest car parts supplier in the world who pledges to be 100 % bio by 2016.  Litrex Manufacturing is currently developing a product line of hemp bioplastic for residential and commercial use available in 2016.  Hemp Plastic is an online source of raw materials suitable for injectable moulding.  (5)

It bears noting that manufacturers of plastic objects and products would not have to retool their plants to accept bio plastics as they are compatible with current petrol oil based injectable moulds.  There’s no real excuse for continuing the use of toxic plastics when eco friendly alternatives are available. 

Not to leave out Zeoform from Australia.  They are way out in front with their use of hemp bio plastics.  Check out their must see gallery (6).

The Peanut Chair

That’s the chair I fell in love with, bottom row, third from left.

It’s not too late for Canada to get on the hemp bio plastics bandwagon.  There are some passionate companies that are going to go far and change how we do business.   They have solid, desireable products and every good consumer reason on their side to succeed.  As we become ever more aware of our buying habits, hopefully we can put the dinosaur age of petroleum based plastics to rest along with the grand creatures of planet Earth’s prehistoric past.  

References