Is it Leading Us down a Greener Road?
For centuries, hemp has been valued as one of the most useful plants in assisting humankind. From being one of the earliest plants cultivated for textile fibre in 8,000 BC to forming the sails and ropes of the boats that helped Christopher Columbus discover the 'New World' in 1492, the manufacture, sale and use of hemp has shaped the course of history in countless ways. But due to a widespread legislative crackdown in the 1930s, the cultivation, sale and use of hemp declined sharply - and it soon slipped from being the potential billion-dollar crop of the 20th century to a ubiquitous symbol of stoner culture.
But with antiquated regulations on the plant slowly lifting across the globe, the benefits of hemp are finally being reconsidered. And due to the multi-faceted nature of the plant, it looks like it may have the potential to help humans with their latest battle yet: preventing climate change.
From its nutritious roots and fast growth to its completely recyclable biomass, there are a plethora of reasons why industrial hemp is more environmentally advantageous than other natural fibres such as cotton or flax. And with the pressure of radical environmental action increasingly mounting, it looks like the increased cultivation of hemp may be a vital way to create a cleaner earth and a more sustainable future. So, without further ado, let's explore these environmental benefits before identifying the ways we can personally support its growth.
Why should we care about the environment?
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 30 years, you likely have some grasp on what climate change is and how it's affecting the world around us. Even if you have been living under a rock, you probably would have been able to tangibly feel its effects since the average global temperature has increased by a whole degree throughout the past century.
From the cataclysmic impact of overpopulation and overconsumption to the excess burning of fossil fuels, there are so many ways that humans are causing harm to the environment. The production of consumer items also leads to an increase in carbon emissions. It's estimated that we only have a short time frame to act within before we cause more irreversible damage to the planet that we call home.
This is precisely why finding ways to mitigate this damage is becoming more and more urgent, and alongside tried and tested strategies like using green energy and consuming less, finding sustainable ways to farm may be benefiting the environment in more ways than we previously understood.
What is industrial hemp?
Before we jump the gun, however, let's first understand a little more about the industrial hemp plant. Often used interchangeably with the term 'hemp,' industrial hemp is not cultivated to produce buds and only contains traceable amounts of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which means that it lacks the components that stand behind marijuana's famous high. The plant instead features a comparatively high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD), the therapeutic cannabinoid responsible for balancing out the psychoactive effects of THC.
Due to its low quantities of THC, the cultivation, sale, and use of the plant are also legal in most countries. Aside from being farmed for the extraction of CBD, the strength of hemp fibres and the speed at which it grows makes it ideal for manufacturing materials such as textiles, paper, construction and insulation materials, and even types of biofuel.
What are the environmental benefits of hemp?
Hemp roots support life
To find one of the main ways that industrial hemp is thought to benefit the environment, you'd have to look up to 200cm below the surface of the ground - to the roots of the plant. Often referred to as 'taproots', the roots of a hemp plant run deep into the soil beneath the plant to anchor its weight and to keep it firmly in place. And aside from carrying out this important function, the taproots also effectively nurture the life of the hemp plant itself as well as the other life that surrounds it.
One way that taproots support the life of the hemp plant and help it to prosper in difficult farming conditions is by helping to control levels of soil erosion, which occurs when soil is worn down by the physical forces of water and wind. By lessening the risk of soil erosion, it's easier for hemp to grow in more extreme climates and terrains, as it requires less maintenance from farmers or types of machinery. These taproots also effectively draw up moisture and nutrients from the ground, helping the plant to survive through droughts and keeping the soil surrounding it healthy and fertile. The long span of taproots also increases the area of the soil that can be benefited by the crop, creating even more land where new life can be formed easily.
Hemp can grow practically anywhere
The hemp plant is resilient. Given that hemp is a derivative of Cannabis sativa, it shares the characteristic of being able to grow just about anywhere - even in low-quality soil and less habitable climates. Furthermore, the hemp plant has a natural resilience to most types of insects. This means that unlike other natural fibres that are commonly used in the textile industry, the hemp plant doesn't require the use of any fertilisers or pesticides during the farming process.
Since the excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides has been associated with the contamination of groundwater; population declines in many vital species such as the honeybee and even acute health effects in humans, keeping their usage at bay is, therefore, necessary for the maintenance of our health as well as the well-being of the world around us.
Hemp grows super fast
In addition to hemp being able to grow just about anywhere, it also grows fast. Really fast. Typically reaching peak maturity in under six months, the yield of a hemp crop is traditionally much higher than other plants, meaning that more nutrients can be harvested from the same amount of land and resources. The ability for the hemp plant to grow so quickly also means that it can provide a good alternative to harmful practices of timber and logging.
It's estimated that there will be no rainforests left in 100 years. That's quite a sobering reality. Due to widespread practices of timber and logging, entire swaths of forest are being destroyed every hour of every day. This poses a threat to the environment in a variety of ways since logging destroys wildlife habitats that have been cultivated for centuries, and it also prevents trees from performing their vital function of balancing out the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Since logging and timber practices are often deployed to make products such as textiles and timber, using the hemp plant as an alternative source of material could dramatically reduce the need to log such vast amounts of forest. And since the clock on the climate emergency is ticking, finding sustainable and ecological alternatives to harmful practices is becoming a matter of urgency.
It improves the quality of soil
Another way that the hemp plant benefits the environment is by purifying soil that surrounds it. Soil, the type which is used in farming, is often exposed to harmful chemicals through pollution or pesticides and fertilisers. When soil is exposed to these chemicals, it damages its quality and subsequently risks the quality of the crops that grow from it. In addition to the obvious waste, this creates, it also risks the livelihood of ecosystems as the growth of wild plants can also be impaired.
Luckily, through a process called phytoremediation, the hemp plant is great at improving soil quality and stripping it of any harmful contaminants it may be harbouring. Through absorbing a wide range of compounds such as heavy metals, pesticides, fuels and even radioactive elements, the hemp plant and others that can carry out this beneficial function are known as Mother Nature's 'magic erasers'. The hemp plant was even used to help clear up the toxic heavy metals that were left behind at the site of Chernobyl, which gives an indication of how effective this herb can be in decontaminating the soil that surrounds it.
Hemp consumes carbon
The proliferation of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide is understood to be a significant contributing factor to temperatures rising globally, because of the way that the gasses emit infrared radiation. This increases the temperature of the earth's surface as well as the lower levels of its atmosphere.
Fortunately, though, aside from purifying the soil around it, industrial hemp also has the miraculous ability to cleanse its surrounding atmosphere. The hemp plant can suck up harmful gasses like carbon dioxide from the air and is even more successful at doing so than trees. To be specific, the hemp plant removes 1.63 tonnes of carbon from the air for every tonne that is produced. This means that if hemp farming is deployed on a large scale, this could make a dramatic difference to the quantity of carbon emissions that exist within the atmosphere.
Hemp's biomass is completely recyclable
If you hate waste as much as we do, this one is important. The biomass of the hemp plant, meaning the organic and raw material that is yet to be made into products, is entirely recyclable, so it eliminates the need for unnecessary waste.
The fibres of the hemp plant are even compostable, so they're able to be used as a natural fertiliser to fuel the growth of crops, which helps to return nutrients back into the ground. This means that not only does the hemp plant not contribute to our growing waste and landfill problem, its biomass is also able to encourage the growth of the hemp crop and many others to grow naturally and effectively.
Hemp survives on little water
Shockingly, agriculture accounts for 70% of the world's water use worldwide. That's right, 70%. This alarming statistic is in part due to the fact that most agricultural workers don't pay the full cost for the water that they use, but another consequence of this is that sadly, a lot of water gets wasted in the process. This widespread mishandling of water supplies is contributing to a global water scarcity that, as many of you may remember, came to a head when Cape Town almost ran out of water in 2019.
Aside from cracking down on wasteful agricultural practices, favouring the growth of crops that require very little water is a great way to tackle this water crisis. Fortunately, the hemp plant has the special ability to irrigate itself naturally, which sets it apart from other plants like cotton that require a lot more water to grow to their full potential.
It provides a great habitat for animals
For many animals, habitat loss has, unfortunately, been occurring for centuries. Whether it be from logging or clearing the land for farming or urbanisation projects, habitat destruction is almost always caused by humans - and with around 15 billion trees being cut down each year, the pressure to find a solution is rising.
Hemp plants are great at providing a habitat for many animals and creatures because they usually grow up to three feet tall, making them a perfect home for all sorts of wildlife. In addition to this, when the flowers of the hemp plants are in bloom, they're a great source of pollen for bees, and the fact that they don't require the use of any fertilisers and pesticides means that they can provide a chemical-free zone for both animals and insects to thrive in.
Hemp can potentially provide an alternative to fossil fuels
As most of you know, the extraction, creation and use of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and other oils are damaging the environment in a number of ways. For instance, petroleum is a liquid found just beneath the surface of the earth, and when it's created it releases harmful toxins into the atmosphere, and when it is burned for various purposes, it releases even more dangerous gasses such as CO2. Aside from being detrimental to the environment, fossil fuels are also considered non-renewable, meaning they are depleting much faster than new sources are being generated.
Luckily, oil extracted from the hemp plant is able to be processed into a type of biodiesel that can be used as a less harmful replacement of fossil fuels like petroleum. Hemp biodiesel would be able to do virtually all the same things as fossil fuels, like power cars and generate electricity. Still, it would be a much cleaner and more environmentally conscious alternative. Although we're still a long way from adopting hemp biofuel over more traditional methods of energy production, exploring more materials for biofuels to be made out of may help to pave the way for much more sustainable futures.
What can you do to support the use of industrial hemp?
It's pretty clear that industrial hemp can benefit the environment in a lot of ways. But in order for the plant to generate widespread and long-lasting change, its uses need to be adopted by a much larger percentage of the population. By researching and purchasing items that use hemp fibre like clothing or paper, you're supporting the farming of industrial hemp as well as the brands who work closely with the crop.
Another great way to support the use of industrial hemp is by using CBD. CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, is a chemical compound of the cannabis plant, and its properties have been understood to be balancing for the body and mind.
Our CBD products at MANTLE
MANTLE is a female-founded, Swedish company who are passionate about making premium CBD products that help you to achieve greater balance. All of our CBD is extracted from sun-grown and hand-harvested hemp that's grown on the rolling hills of Switzerland. We create broad-spectrum CBD oil that's 100% THC free so you can ensure that it'll be bursting with a range of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. In addition to this, our products are always third-party tested to ensure their safety, purity and quality.
Our Original Oil contains 10% of organic CBD that comes in 10ml or 20ml size glass bottles that are of course, completely recyclable. All of our products are completely vegan, natural and cruelty-free so you can rest assured that you're benefiting the environment as much as you're balancing yourself!
Want to know more about our products and what we do here at MANTLE? Just take a browse of our site here!