Hemp bioplastic is the sustainable success of traditional plastics. Learn more about how the market looks today and what experts predict for it future.
Hemp bioplastics – The basics, the situation today, and the scope for tomorrow
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) researchers estimate that since the early 1950s, we have produced 8.3 billion tons of plastic.
60% of it ended up in landfills. (Where it takes 10 to 1,000 years to decompose.)
We are also dumping 200 kilos of plastic in seas and oceans. Every second.
Plus, burning plastic releases toxic gases like mercury and dioxins.
But disposal is only one-half of the plastic problem.
The other half: production.
99% of plastic production uses chemicals derived from oil, natural gas, and coal. Basically dirty, non-renewable resources.
Extrapolating the current trends shows that by 2050, the plastic industry would account for 20% of the total oil consumption.
Climate change, global warming, pollution, disruption of marine ecosystems…
The results of plastic use, and its laissez-faire disposal are visible and nightmarish.
The solution? Stop using plastic.
But the global average suggests that we use 50 kilograms of plastic per annum. Per person.
How do we completely eliminate something that’s so important in our daily lives?
If we cannot stop using plastics, what we can do is at least find alternatives.
Something that is environmentally friendly to produce and dispose of.
What is Bioplastic?
Bioplastics are plastic materials that come from renewable biomass sources. These sources include vegetable oils and fats, corn starch, sawdust, recycled food waste, woodchips, straw, hemp, etc.
Of all these sources, hemp bioplastic is the most environmentally friendly. And the one with the most large scale and long-term scope.
Bubbling with questions?
You’ll find all the answers right here.
This guide will walk you through the following aspects.
- What is hemp bioplastic?
- The current and prospective uses and applications of hemp bioplastics
- Where does the hemp bioplastic market stand today?
- Can hemp bioplastic replace plastics?
- Forecasts about the future of the hemp bioplastic market
- Problems faced by the hemp bioplastic market today
What is hemp bioplastic?
Hemp bioplastic is a natural and affordable alternative to oil-based plastics. It is made from the stalk of the plant, which contains sufficiently high cellulose content to make plastics.
Hemp contains an extremely high cellulose content of between 65-70% (compared to 40% in wood). This gives hemp plastics the required durability and strength.
Studies have also shown that hemp bioplastics (of different grades) are 5X stiffer than polypropylene. And 2.5X stronger too.
Moreover, hemp fiber is also lightweight. This makes it a perfect replacement for fiberglass and other mainstream plastic use cases in the construction, packaging, and transportation sectors.
Plus, it is recyclable. And even when not recycled, hemp bioplastic biodegrades within 3 to 6 months. And because hemp plastic is not made from fossil fuels, it doesn’t give out CO2 while decomposing. So it is not toxic either.
Other than being a source of good quality plastic, hemp has certain other exceptional qualities.
For example, it has a low cultivation input and high output.
- It sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere.
- It doesn’t need much water for cultivation.
- It has absolutely no fertilizers and pesticides requirements.
Plus, hemp, which is grown for bioplastic production, can also be used for soil remediation.
This makes hemp bioplastic better than not just traditional oil-based plastic, but also other bioplastics made from cotton or wood.
Currently, there are different grades of hemp bioplastics that are being manufactured. Two primary varieties are standard plastic with 30-40% hemp fiber and 100% hemp plastics.
The first commercial use of hemp bioplastic was “Fly High”. A frisbee disc with cannabis bioplastic admixtures. A 60-year old experiment also documents the use of hemp for making car doors.
Presently, the most popular uses of hemp bioplastic range from replacements for fiberglass to ecological packaging.
Given that hemp plastics, resins, or biocomposites can be molded in any shape, they can potentially be assigned to a majority of plastic purposes.
Where does the hemp bioplastic market stand today?
Hemp bioplastics have been successfully manufactured to replace synthetic plastic only recently. However, the idea dates back to the 1940s.
And if we look at the market today, it stands at a point from where it can only go upwards.
The global hemp bioplastic market was valued at somewhere around $83.5 million in 2021.
While it might seem like only a small number, the scope for growth is huge. This can be deduced from the booming bioplastic and industrial hemp market.
The total bioplastic market was valued at $5 billion in 2020. A clear indicator that the shift from plastics to bioplastics is catching on.
Also, the biodegradable, plant-based plastic market in Europe alone was $0.8 billion in 2019. With a CAGR of 10.9%, the European bioplastic market is expected to hit the $1.9 billion mark by 2027.
Similarly large and on the boom, is the industrial hemp market. The global market was valued at $3.61 billion in 2020.
These figures show the scope of growth for the hemp bioplastic market as both the supply (industrial hemp) and the demand (bioplastic) markets are looking forward to better times.
Can hemp bioplastic replace plastics?
Optimists looking at the hemp bioplastic market often assume that hemp-based alternatives will someday replace the entire plastic market. This leads to exorbitantly high valuation expectations from the hemp bioplastic market.
But the reality is that hemp (or any other) bioplastics can never fully replace traditional plastics.
For now, an attempt to match the volume demand for plastic with hemp would put a large part of Earth’s biodiversity at risk.
Also, hemp lacks the required flexibility and tensile strength for certain applications.
Another difficult case in question is the medical application of plastic. To replace plastic being used for medical purposes (packaging blood for transfusions), hemp would have to undergo rigorous testing.
However, it would be incorrect to not consider the opportunities that can be unlocked with breakthrough innovations or discoveries.
Hemp is only recently being legalized across the globe. As it gets more public attention and research is done, the situation might change drastically. And Hemp Foundation is one of the Largest Manufacturer and Wholesaler of the Bio-Plastic Products
Forecasts, predictions, and expectations about the future of the hemp bioplastic market
There is a growing demand for bioplastics, especially from the packaging industry. The market bioplastic is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11% between 2021 and 2027. And estimates suggest that by 2030, bioplastics will account for 40% of the plastics industry.
This is a direct result of increasing levels of consumer awareness and government sanctions against traditional plastics.
All this, with the relaxation of hemp bans, is creating an extremely conducive market for hemp bioplastics.
With a CAGR of 13.6%, the global hemp bioplastic market is expected to reach $290.7 million by 2031. (See figure below for yearly forecasts.)
The following graph shows the projected market value of different types of hemp bioplastics for the 9-year forecast period (2022-2031), with 2021 as the index year.
The figures and forecasts show growth for the hemp bioplastic market.
But a close look at the projections and a comparison with the overall industrial hemp and bioplastic market points towards a slow progression.
This can be attributed to the many hindrances being faced by the hemp bioplastic market.
Problems faced by the hemp bioplastic market
The technology to transform hemp into bioplastic is still in its nascent stages. And that’s the reason why it is extremely expensive.
Hemp alternatives for bioplastics like soy and corn are subsidized (especially in the US). This makes them a cheaper alternative to fossil fuel-based plastic. And in most markets, the cost is the predominant competition point. Thus, businesses don’t want to up their costs by using hemp.
Furthermore, the process of using hemp fibers to manufacture plastic is complicated.
- The first step of the process is decortication.
- Then hemp fibers have to be stripped of lignin (an organic polymer that makes hemp rigid), pectin protein, waxy deposits, and other biological compounds.
All this takes a lot of investment in heavy machinery and a longer time-to-market.
Thus, while cultivating hemp is extremely cheap as compared to extracting fossil fuels, hemp bioplastic cannot compete with its traditional counterpart on a price point.
The shady and in-the-grey legal status of hemp in most countries even today is another hindrance.
However, hemp is making a slow (and sustainable) entry into our day-to-day lives.
As it gets more legal acceptance, the commercial production process will improve, cost-effective supply chains will emerge and hemp bioplastic will become more prevalent.