Hemp & the Environment — Sustainability at Its Best
GBL Staff Writer
April 13, 2023
Hemp is a mighty plant. Not only is it a source of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, it’s also an incredibly hardy, resourceful, and versatile plant.
This may get you wondering how great industrial hemp actually is — for the planet (and ultimately you!). Like:
What is hemp used for and are hemp products sustainable?
What kind of sustainability profile does hemp have?
Are there environmental benefits of using industrial hemp?
How does hemp’s eco-friendliness compare to other common crops and commodities?
Is hemp harmful to the environment in any way or are there any negative impacts of hemp?
Keep reading and you’ll find out!
What is Hemp?
Hemp, aka industrial hemp, is a member of the Cannabis sativa L. family of plants. It’s often distinguished as being the cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC.
You can find hemp growing on every continent except Antarctica — it’s adapted to a variety of temperate climates as its spread from its original home in Asia.
Different cultivars have different qualities. Some are favored for their fibers, others for their botanical extracts.
In There, Done That — 50,000 Uses for Hemp
We weren’t kidding when we said hemp is versatile. 50,000 uses of hemp might be a stretch, but you get the idea.
And, you don’t have to look far or hard to see it in things all around you.
Through the comeback of legalization, “magic” of science and technology, and human creativity, hemp has countless potential. And, every day technology is discovering and implementing even more hemp innovations.
Here are just a few ways hemp’s returning to industry, households, construction, personal care, and more. It’s used as or in:
Environmental Benefits of Hemp
Hemp really is a wunderkind when it comes to showing the Earth some love. It helps take away some of the bad stuff that hurts our planet while simultaneously contributing a bunch of good stuff to this third rock from the Sun.
Hemp Sustainability Facts
Why does hemp get such a high sustainability score? It could be because:
Hemp is biodegradable. As an organic entity, hemp can decompose like any other plant. In its natural state, it takes just a couple of weeks to break down. (Though some of the more fibrous parts can take longer.)
Hemp grows fast. This means it reaches maturity quickly — two to four months — and can be harvested for use sooner and more frequently than many other functional crops.
Hemp is productive. You can grow more hemp per unit of resource (e.g., water, land, etc.) than most other crops.
Hemp is robust. This scrappy plant can grow in some tough environmental conditions (like poor soil) and is quite resilient.
Hemp is a cleaner-upper. There’s a reason hemp’s used in environmental remediation projects! It’s even helping decontaminate Chernobyl.(1)
Hemp is renewable. Replenishing supplies of this plant has been done since ancient times. It’s actually thought to be the first intentionally cultivated crop.
Hemp is recyclable. Both biomass left over from processing and finished hemp products can be recycled. Depending upon the situation, upcycling, reuse, reprocessing, and other not-quite-recycling repurposing or recovery may be possible.
Hemp is compostable. This is significantly better for the environment than dumping hemp in a landfill. Among other things, composting helps ward off plant diseases, increases water retention, and improves plant growth and yield.(2,3)
The entire hemp plant is usable. Because almost every part of the plant can be used, it’s a very efficient crop. Even byproducts and “waste” can often find a useful life on the secondary market (or a compost pile…).
Hemp can be great for soil health. Not only does hemp remove toxins from the soil, but it can also make the soil more fertile by adding nutrients, improving soil structure and composition, and aerating the ground. This is a great plant to include in crop rotation to regenerate the land. And, if managed well, it can boost the growth of other plants in the same plot.(2)
Hemp may negate the need for pesticides. By shading or crowding out weeds, hemp may reduce dependence on more harmful “-icides.”(4) Researchers are also looking into using hemp and CBD as/in greener pesticides.(5) Hemp is also considered to be naturally pest resistant.
Hemp can enhance the sustainability of things it’s in. For example, when used in building materials, it can make the resulting structure more climate-resistant (e.g., helps maintain inside temperature, resists mold, etc.) and energy efficient.
Is Hemp a Sustainable Alternative?
If you pit hemp head-to-head with alternative products and materials — well, let’s just say it more than holds its own! Check out these notable match-ups….
Hemp vs Cotton Sustainability
Organic hemp is hands down better than cotton. Hemp uses less resources to grow and harvest. Plus, it enhances the soil more than cotton.
Compared to cotton, hemp fabric is more durable, insulating, and absorbent. So items made from it should last longer and may use less material.
Is Hemp More Sustainable Than Trees?
Hemp takes fewer resources to grow, requires less amount of time until the plants can be harvested to use, and has the ability to sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than trees.(7)
With hemp, you get way more bang for your buck.
Is Hemp Plastic Better?
Hemp bioplastics beat regular plastics by a mile when it comes to eco-friendliness. Hemp-based plastics are generally non-toxic and are biodegradable. They’re also stronger and cleaner and easier to make than petroleum plastics.
These combined characteristics mean that hemp ecoplastic is safer and more durable than oil-based plastics.
Hemp & Sustainability — Doing Your Part
The hemp plant and hemp and CBD oil product makers can’t further the cause of sustainability alone. You’re a vital part of the ecosystem!
Growers and producers need your support. You can show it buy making purchasing decisions that underscore your commitment to helping Mother Nature.
Next time you’re shopping for clothing, home supplies, décor — whatever else you need to keep your life on track — consider buying goods made from or with hemp. And if CBD is on your list, opt for products made from organic, sustainably-farmed American hemp.
Greening with Green — Hemp Helps Us & Our Planet
Hemp is a robust plant that uses relatively few resources to grow. As such, it’s highly sustainable and able to help heal the planet.
Because hemp is so eco-friendly and versatile, it’s been used throughout the world in innumerable ways for thousands of years. Thanks to new legalization, after decades of cannabis prohibition in the US, hemp is finding its way back into evermore products — and improving their sustainability profile. (Unfortunately, though, rebuilding a stable supply chain to keep up with consumer demand and raising mass awareness of hemp’s virtues will take time.)
By opting for hemp-based products, you can play a role in hemp’s environmental activism.
FAQs Buzzin’ Through the Hive
Is hemp environmentally friendly?
Yes! Hemp uses relatively few resources to grow, is a hardy and fast-developing plant, and helps clean pollutants from the surrounding area.
Does hemp pollute?
On its own, hemp is not a pollutant. Of course, farmers and product producers need to follow sustainable practices to avoid polluting the environment when growing and processing the plant. Also, if not properly managed, hemp can become invasive — essentially a weed that crowds out or chokes off less competitive plants.
Is hemp biodegradable?
Absolutely. As an organic material, hemp can break down into more elemental components. It takes about two weeks for the plant matter to decompose.
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