Choosing a greener and more sustainable alternative
In the 1900s and especially after the Second World War, plastic became one of the most widely used materials for packaging. The obvious reasons were its low manufacturing cost and durability.
However, since most plastic is non-biodegradable, the question of sustainability continued to remain closely associated with it. Eventually, the world turned towards conventional paper packaging and hailed it as a better and sustainable alternative to plastic.
But IS CONVENTIONAL PAPER PACKAGING REALLY SUSTAINABLE?
It is true that being biodegradable, conventional paper packaging is an eco-friendlier alternative to plastic and with its ability to get recycled 6-7 times, it is a popular choice. Yet when it comes to sustainability, there is a BIG QUESTION MARK.
Do you know conventional paper packaging is among the most polluting and energy-intensive industries in the world?
Reality behind Conventional Paper Production is Frightening
Statistics suggest that to produce 1kg of paper, it takes a whopping 323 litres of water. Besides, more than 7.5 billion trees are cut down every year for paper alone.
The paper we currently use drinks up lots of water. An A4 paper, for instance, consumes ten liters of water per sheet.
Have you ever walked or driven past a landfill? Most of the materials in these huge landfills are made of paper. If that is not enough, the emitting paper disseminates methane, a greenhouse gas. When you go burning or composting the paper, it produces carbon dioxide.
This staggering data gives you an inkling of the number of trees cut and water wasted for producing the paper you are working on. Besides, when global warming and environmental degradation are happening at a lightning speed, can we really call paper packaging a sustainable option for future?
In contrast to conventional paper packaging, Hemp paper packaging is now coming across as the future of the paper packaging industry. This report analyzes how the latter compares to the former. It discusses the different areas and aspects in which Hemp paper proves to be far better than the conventional paper.
Let us begin learning about the carnage brought upon by conventional paper packaging in many parts of the world.
How Unfettered Exploits of Paper Industry Has Left a Trail of Destruction
Several countries across the world are suffering today because of the irresponsible and careless behavior of some companies in the pulp and paper industry. Their exploitative activities have left an unacceptable large ecological footprint on the globe.
The ecosystem of Southern Chile, Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Sumatra, the Russian Far East, and The Atlantic forest region in Brazil is at severe risk because of unrestricted cutting of trees to cater for the growing demand of pulpwood. Reckless harvesting from natural forests and pulp plantations on converted natural forests has come off as a menace for fragile ecosystems.
Regions acclaimed for their high conservation values have now become ill-famous for illegal logging. These forests, which were once home to a wealth of biodiversity, have now just sparse reminders of those green treetops.
And this is not the end. There is more coming!
Often, in areas with weak land tenure systems, rampant cutting of trees for the paper industry leads to major social conflicts. Governments, in the pressure of paper lobby or compulsion of vote bank politics, issue forest licenses giving companies rights over the land that the indigenous communities consider their own. Parts of Brazil and Sumatra have seen community conflicts, triggered by the activities of paper pulp companies.
Paper Mills Source of Carbon and Greenhouse Gases
Unsustainable pulpwood products lead to adverse impacts on climate. For instance, in Sumatra, the transformation of deep peatlands into pulp plantations has led to the release of carbon. Waste products like emissions and pollution from conventional paper mills are huge and easily noticeable. Greenhouse gases disseminate in huge amounts in the pulp and paper manufacturing processes.
Damage to Aquatic Ecosystems
The Paper industry consumes copious amounts of water. Used water laden with chemicals is generally discharged into surrounding water bodies, causing damage to aquatic ecosystems and putting the health of people living around in grave danger. Admittedly, in developed countries, systems have come up with reduced water emissions. However, the bad situation prevails in third world countries.
Hemp comes across as a savior, protecting the earth from the marauding exploiters of pulp, who are willing to go to any length for some extra profit.
Let us find out how Hemp does the savior act, but prior to that, what about taking apart the myth that had become the bane of this wonder plant, till recent times.
Dismantling of a Myth – Hemp is Not Marijuana
Many confuse Hemp with marijuana. The very fact that the latter is a well-known and infamous intoxicant leads to most regular people develop an apprehension for Hemp too. However, Hemp and marijuana are not the same. It is true that they both are cannabis Sativa plant, yet Hemp is generally used for industrial purposes.
The main differentiating factor between the two is the percentage of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) content, which determines the intoxicating properties of cannabis.
Hemp is that variety of cannabis plant that has less than 0.3% THC content, hence it is not at all intoxicating. Marijuana, on the other hand, contains more than 0.3% of THC, making it an intoxicating substance.
What is Hemp Paper
Hemp plants serve as the raw material for Hemp paper. Both fiber and pulp are used to make Hemp paper. Fiber paper is generally tough and long-lasting, whereas pulp paper is softer and suitable for everyday use. Technically, Hemp paper is better than wood paper because its manufacturing is easier and quality better.
Not a New Invention – Hemp Paper Existed Since Ages
You may be surprised to know that Hemp paper is not something new, but is up there for thousands of years. History indicates that the first known use of Hemp paper was in China way back in 200-150 BC.
Since then, Hemp paper was used by the human race and it continued to remain the top choice to manufacture paper, until the 1900s, when many countries, misguided by the conspiracy, began to impose restrictions on the cultivation of Hemp and rendered it as illegal.
Evidence demonstrates that Hemp paper was widely used to wrap fragile and delicate items such as porcelain etc. during shipment.
Due to its sturdy properties, several manuscripts were including “The Gutenberg’s Bible” (The first printed bible) was printed on Hemp. The declaration of independence of the US was also written on Hemp paper due to its hard-wearing quality. We have got several ancient documents and scriptures that are made up of Hemp, a testimony of its durability.
Why Usage of Hemp Paper is Steadily Rising
People all around the globe are slowly waking up to multiple natural advantages of Hemp, the marvel plant. From this perspective, it is not really surprising to see the production and usage of Hemp paper growing up continually.
Let us see the multiple advantages of Hemp that make it a preferred raw material for making paper:
No use of harmful bleaching chemicals
Chlorine is commonly used to bleach the wood paper and give it a brighter look. However, due to this process, poisonous gas dioxin is released. In contrast, paper made out of the Hemp plant appears naturally bright. There is absolutely no need to bleach it, making the process not just economical for the paper manufacturer but more eco-friendly as well.
In order to produce paper, the conventional paper industry uses certain chemical binders. Due to the ill effect of these binders, the process releases a chemical called ‘formaldehyde’ which is extremely hazardous to both humans and the environment. In contrast to this, Hemp paper can be made with natural binders such as soy-based binders which is completely safe and does not emit any harmful substances.
Elimination of chemicals in Hemp fibers segregation process
Admitted, the process for segregating hemp fibers from the lignin is not fully chemical-free, but the chemicals used are mild and have negligible bad effects.
What is more, there are manufacturers who ensure even the process of separating Hemp fibers is fully chemical-free. They will complete the process using organic methods.
Strong fibers, slower decomposition
Compared to the wood paper, Hemp paper is made of much stronger fibers that make it very much durable and long-lasting. These fibers resist faster decomposition and hence prove to be the ultimate choice for paper packaging.
In order to conserve important papers for a long time, one might use naturally stable Hemp paper instead of using chemically treated Acid paper.
Does not turn yellow
Hemp paper has an outstanding ability to withstand the test of time. Unlike wood paper that begins yellowing or browning with age, Hemp paper, being naturally strong and thick, does not turn yellow and retains its features for long. Hemp paper can be easily identified and differentiated from the wood paper because of this quality.
Higher cellulose & low lignin
Technically, Hemp paper is better than conventional paper because the Hemp plant contains low lignin content. Being low on lignin, it is softer as compared to wood and your laborers don’t have to work as much hard to break it down.
Hemp paper is also exceptionally high in its cellulose content. The hemp plant contains up to 85 percent of cellulose as opposed to only 30 percent in wood. Due to the higher amount of cellulose in the Hemp plant, its paper is much more durable.
Hemp production consumes less land
The cost-efficacy of the Hemp paper production is unmatched to that of wood paper. To give an idea, the number of sheets of paper produced from around 4,000 square meters of Hemp is equal to what trees over an area of 40,000 square meters can produce for twenty years. This clearly means that one can do much more in less land.
Ease of growing hemp
Nowadays, as the production of Hemp paper has caught speed, many have come up growing Hemp for industrial purposes. One reason for this spur in Hemp growth is that it can be cultivated with ease. The plant requires little water or pesticides, so the investment of the planters is quite less. However, the growers have to be careful about choosing the right genetics, depending on the end-use of Hemp, which is paper production in this case.
Hemp has long roots that can locate water at places where it is hard to come by. Moreover, Hemp does not require a specific climate for growth, or a lot of irrigation. It can make do with little water, compared to other vegetation used for making paper. This leads to lower irrigation costs for Hemp farmers who are to supply raw Hemp to the factories.
Time to harvest
Hemp is ready to harvest in about 70 to 90 days from the time of seeding as compared to most trees which takes around 20 to 30 years to completely mature. Lesser time to harvest means enough supplies for the manufacturers of Hemp paper.
Hemp is naturally resistant to almost all pests. As it is itself a weed, cultivating Hemp as well as the next crop becomes easier.
Excellent rotation crop
The fact that Hemp is a top-order rotation crop encourages farmers to grow Hemp for paper mill requirements. When wheat is grown with Hemp in rotation, the wheat yield shoots up by around 20 percent. If Hemp is grown in rotation with Soybean, the need for chemical pesticides is reduced by more than half.
No wonder, it is speculated that by the end of 2021, Hemp production would grow to about 100,000 acres, boosting paper production.
Better recycling abilities
Hemp paper is far more recyclable compared to other papers. Wood paper can be recycled to the maximum of three times, however, Hemp paper can be reused around seven times.
How Hemp Paper Brings in a Multitude of Advantages
When you decide to use Hemp paper, the benefits are not limited to just using high quality, strong paper. Rather, you become a contributor to the whole environment around you.
Conventional paper packaging, as you already know, contributes big time to ruining the environment we all live in.
Let us see how Hemp paper serves the planet:
Saves jungles, the lungs of the earth, from deforestation
The world has completely changed since the last 100 to 120 years. Thanks to the invention of modern transport modes like airplanes and cars, the world has become a smaller place. However, the environmental price we have paid for this modernization is far too much.
Today, when environmental degradation is posing an existential threat to the human race, it becomes incumbent upon us to consider what mistakes we have done and how we can reverse the trend. Large scale deforestation, triggered by the conventional paper industry, is destroying the forests which are considered the lungs of the earth. To produce paper, every year, around 4.1 million hectares of forest gets destroyed. Around 14 percent of deforestation has been done just for goods related to paper.
Embracing of Hemp paper will arrest the trend, if not reverse it right away.
Gives time to the environment for self-healing
Increasing the usage of Hemp paper will give the environment time to heal. As Hemp consumes toxins, uses little water and doesn’t require chemical fertilizers, it allows soil the time to regain its fertility. As evidence has shown, harvesting of Hemp for a long time does help resurrect the environment.
If we could move from wood paper to Hemp paper by just 30 percent, we could enjoy and reap the benefits of the rain forest for a much longer time. The use of Hemp paper will give the environment time to heal itself.
Consumes CO2 in the atmosphere
Though all plants consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen but Hemp goes a little further in its CO2 consumption. It has been recorded that, one ton of Hemp remove 1.63 tonnes of CO2 from our environment. This proves Hemp much more effective than trees when it comes to reducing CO2 present in the atmosphere.
Scientists regard Hemp as the perfect carbon sink. Moreover, CO2 that settles down within Hemp is permanently bonded within the fiber which has several uses including the manufacturing of paper.
Replenishes soil & grows quickly
Hemp crop replenishes the soil after growth. The stem and leaves of Hemp crops are filled with nutrients that get mixed with the soil and make it more effective for the next crop. It is a very common practice to grow Hemp in rotation with other crops like wheat or cotton or soybean.
Mixing of Hemp in crops helps increase the yield considerably while retaining the fertility of the soil.
Prevents water pollution
The fertilizers and pesticides are heavily used in producing trees used for making paper. Chemicals present in these products wash up in the water bodies, making a hazardous position for the humans as well as other creatures.
Using Hemp paper promotes the cultivation of Hemp, which helps improve the problem of water pollution.
Absorbs harmful gases and toxins from the atmosphere
Hemp has a unique property of absorbing harmful gases and toxic metals from the air and soil. If you are not yet aware, the Hemp plant was used to suck the radioactive Strontium and Cesium after the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. It was used for the same objective in Fukushima after the reactor was hit by a huge Tsunami.
Is there any harm using a marvel plant for making paper and Hemp improve the environment of the planet we all breathe in?
Since paper for packaging consumes one-third of the total production of wood paper, one can easily estimate the positive impact using Hemp paper will have on the environment. Even if a fraction of the packaging paper comes from Hemp, it will do wonders.
Isn’t it astonishing that despite the extraordinary qualities of Hemp, we know very little about the plant? Hemp can be the trigger to move our economic system from a hydrocarbon to a carbohydrate economy.
The debate of Hemp Paper vs Conventional Paper Packaging should end now. The time is calling us to go past the discussion and embrace Hemp as the source of making Packaging Paper. What is needed is an awareness campaign to not just make the masses but also make the decision-makers at every stage of society aware of the massive advantages of industrial Hemp.