SEATTLE, Washington — The status quo is not going to reduce poverty or slow global warming. Though the global economy relies heavily on non-renewable resources and single-use, non-biodegradable products, there are plenty of alternatives. One of them is industrial hemp. An estimated 5,000 textile products and 25,000 other products could be made with hemp on the global market, providing sustainable alternatives to oil, plastic, clothing and paper. Industrial hemp is not only profitable but it also addresses issues of poverty and leaves less of an environmental impact on the planet. Here are 5 ways hemp can fight poverty and clean up the planet.
5 Ways Hemp Can Fight Poverty and Clean Up the Planet
- Hemp Can Replace Plastic: Since the creation of plastic in the 1950s, our planet has produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, the equivalent of 25,000 Empire State buildings. Not only is plastic filling our oceans and landfills but its production is also poisoning people around the globe, especially in countries transitioning to industrial economies. The petrochemical industry creates air pollution, and developing countries like Thailand are paying the costs. In just one coastal province, more than 73 million tons of chemicals are used yearly, producing air pollution levels well beyond Thailand environmental standards. Hemp, which can be made into a versatile bioplastic, is completely biodegradable and does not require harmful chemicals for production. Outdoor air pollution is largely caused bythe current industry and kills 4.2 million people every year. By transitioning to hemp bioplastic and other cleaner alternatives, many of these lives could be saved, leaving families and communities more stable and intact.
- A Return to Revolutionary Times: Compared to the majority of human history, this century is the odd one out for limiting hemp production. Hemp was one of the first domesticated crops on the planet, and its production was even mandatory in Virginia as early as 1632. The first draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. Hemp produces high-quality paper while using fewer chemicals for processing than wood pulp. It also reduces the economic incentive of deforestation. With approximately 1.6 billion people who rely on forest resources for food, fuel, shelter, clothing and medicine, hemp provides an alternative to the 15 billion trees cut down every year. Hemp paper is also bleached with hydrogen peroxide, a much more environmentally friendly option than bleach, which is used to whiten tree-based paper.
- Hemp Stabilizes the Environment: Though there is no industrial crop that has zero impact on the environment, hemp production gives back to the planet in unexpected ways. Because hemp requires little to no fertilizer or pesticides, soil retains more nutrients and is more productive over time. Hemp’s extensive root system prevents soil loss and erosion, protecting farmers from the risk of flooding and crop loss as well as stabilizing the land near surrounding communities. And on an even larger scale, industrial hemp production combats global warming, which is one of the biggest ways hemp can fight poverty. It has been estimated that each ton of grown hemp absorbs 1.63 tons of CO2. Hemp also grows in various climates, making it a more reliable and versatile cash crop than agro-forestry or cotton. All of these factors affect poverty, especially in developing countries where global warming hits hardest and natural disasters are debilitating. By investing in more reliable, environmentally sustainable cash crops like hemp, communities in developing countries can become more resilient despite the climate’s uncertain future.
- A Complete Nutritional Source: Of the thousands of products that can be made from the plant, hemp seeds provide one of the 5 ways hemp can fight poverty. Farmers who cultivate hemp are also left with its seeds, which are nutritional powerhouses. Hemps seeds are a complete protein source and contain important minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Hemp seed oil is a complete source of all essential amino and fatty acids. The ideal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 found in the oil generates health benefits such as greater resistance to cancer, inflammation and blood clotting as well as increased metabolism and lowered blood cholesterol. Both hemp seeds and oil can combat malnutrition, especially the most serious type, Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM), which can lead to growth failure and death. Around 821 million people worldwide lack sufficient food and one-third of them are malnourished. Malnutrition is also the root cause of one-third of child deaths worldwide. This is why ending hunger is the 2nd Sustainable Development Goal. Without addressing primary needs like food security and proper nutrition, other development areas like education and employment become less relevant.
- Clothes, Homes and Biofuel: Hemp fabric dates back to 4500 BCE and offers thousands of uses in regards to fabric and cloth. Though cotton remains king, it is one of the dirtiest agricultural industries, notorious for child labor use and chemical pollution. The cotton industry alone accounts for 16 percent of insecticides used globally, which can be ruinous to children’s nervous systems, causing headaches, paralysis and sometimes death. Hemp does not require such an exorbitant amount of chemicals and it also uses 50 percent less water than cotton. What’s more, every single part of the plant can be used by farmers, for food, fuel, and even construction materials. Hempcrete, made from the inner core of the hemp stalk, is an incredible material used for home insulation. It is sustainable, non-toxic and mold resistant. Hemp has also begun to enter the biodiesel scene, paving a more environmentally friendly path than other biofuels like corn and palm oil and offering up to 97 percent conversion efficiency. Cars made of hemp entered the market around 2010 and may soon be powered by the same renewable resource.
There are few crops that are as versatile as hemp. These 5 ways hemp can fight poverty help reimagine a world in which industrial production is more in line with the environment and people do not have to sacrifice health and resilience for profit. By utilizing renewable resources, developing countries and the world at large can build an economy that it can depend on for centuries.