Trees and forests around the world act like the planet's air conditioning system, keeping us cool by converting carbon dioxide into clean, pure oxygen. Unfortunately, even in our digital age, the demand for more and more paper means we are chopping down trees faster than we are growing new ones. Over one billion trees are cut down in the United States alone each year to make paper, providing an average of 735 pounds of paper per person — and that number may rise approximately 60% by the year 2050. Additionally, conventional paper mills are the country's third-largest energy consumer and the third-largest industrial polluter, pumping over 220 million pounds of harmful pollution into the world's air and water each year.
Hopefully, you're thinking, "Is there be a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional paper?" The good news is: yes, there is: paper made from hemp.
Hemp paper was used for thousands of years prior to prohibition. In 1455 the first printed book in Europe was on hemp, and by the late 1880s, most paper was made of hemp. Benjamin Franklin started the first American paper mill, which made paper exclusively from hemp. It's theorized that the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper in 1776.
Hemp paper is made from the hemp plant's long and short bast fiber (hurd or pulp). Fiber paper is thin, robust, brittle, and rough. The chemical breakdown of hemp hurds is close to wood, making hemp a more suitable choice as a raw material for manufacturing paper.
Utilizing hemp instead of trees could save forests and wildlife habitats. It's also a more profitable way of producing paper, all while taking away from harmful CO2 emissions when cutting down forests.
Let's explore some ways hemp paper can help save the planet.
Hemp Is a Renewable Resource
Most trees take 50 to 500 years to mature enough to make paper. Hemp can be cultivated within a short time, making it sustainable.
Hemp Is Stronger & Lasts Longer
Hemp creates much stronger and more durable paper than trees. As one of the strongest natural fibers globally, hemp paper doesn't yellow and resists decomposition with age.
Hemp Can Be Recycled More Times
When it comes to waste, recycling paper can make a big difference. Wood-based paper can only be recycled three times, while hemp paper can be recycled up to seven or eight times.
Hemp Doesn't Need Toxic Bleach
The processes used to create hemp paper doesn't pose the same environmental risks as paper sourced from trees. Wood paper requires bleaching with toxic chemicals that may poison waterways, whereas hemp can be whitened with hydrogen peroxide.Despite these points in favor of hemp, there are still obstacles to making the switch. Much like hemp-based plastic, we can't replace all of our massive demand for paper with hemp paper overnight. While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, there are not enough hemp plants to replace all of our trees' uses.