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How hemp fabric can be the most sustainable material for medical industry

You would be surprised to know that the medical industry is responsible for a lot of diseases it cures. The cause — pollution! 

4.4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and more than 5 million tons of waste each year. Those are the precise numbers. It can give you an estimate of the extent of medical industry pollution today. 

Used syringes, PPE kits, surgical gowns, masks, and patient uniforms — where do you reckon all of it winds up? It’s anyone’s guess: incineration, landfills, and rivers. Fancy terms for air, land, and water pollution.

Medical textile pollution is one of the worst offenders. 

The reason — unsustainable choice of fabrics. 

The medical industry thrives on synthetic fabrics which tarnish the planet from its production to thousands of years beyond its disposal. 

And natural fibers are no saints either. They can be so taxing on the environment, that their biodegradability hardly makes up for it.

But enough bad news for now! Is there any ray of hope? 

Hemp: a natural solution that has been there for thousands of years, but ignored and stigmatized due to its genetic cousin marijuana. 

It’s high time that changes. We need to embrace hemp as the most sustainable material for the medical industry. 

But how is hemp sustainable? And where exactly can we use it? Let’s find out.  

The Sustainability Factor: Why Hemp?

The prime reason for medical industry pollution is the unsustainability of its textiles. The most commonly used medical textiles are cotton, viscose, polyester, polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, glass, and elastomeric. 

All of these textiles are unsustainable. Hemp, on the other hand, is sustainable in every sense of the term. 

The sustainability of fabric can be judged under three categories: production, application, and disposal. All of these three stages ought to be eco-friendly, for the fabric to be considered sustainable. 

Now we shall see how hemp fabric meets these criteria.  

  1. Production

  • Hemp plants act as a carbon sink. They absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they produce in their lifetime.
  • Unlike some high irrigation crops like cotton, hemp requires comparatively less water. 
  • The soil is replete with nutrients after a cycle of hemp cultivation. Since this plant is pest and weed resistant, it doesn’t require any pesticides or fertilizers. This means the soil is free of any chemicals. 
  • This crop grows fast. Within 3-4 months hemp is ready to harvest. This translates to a higher yearly yield. 
  • Hemp requires half the land to grow as compared to cotton. And within the same space, hemp would produce 3x more fiber than cotton. So, no undue stress on the planet.
  • Hemp fabric produced from the stalk of the plant undergoes natural and manual processes. No heavy machinery is involved.
  1. Application

  • The tensile strength of hemp fabric is three times that of cotton. It is extremely durable. 
  • Dyed colors remain vibrant because hemp fabric is resistant to fading by heat and sunlight.
  • Protection from UV rays is guaranteed. 
  • It blends easily with all natural and synthetic fibers. As a result, fabrics with varying properties can be attained.
  • Hemp fabric is repellant to insects and mold. No need to use any additional chemicals.
  • Due to its potent antibacterial properties, hemp fabric inhibits the growth and spread of bacteria naturally.
  • Due to its low elasticity, it doesn’t shrink or expand excessively. It can be washed in any way and as many times as required. 
  • There is no fiber degradation. Hemp fiber only softens with wash and use.
  • It is highly breathable and moisture-wicking. Keeps cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • Products made of hemp fabric are resilient to the test of time, unlike other natural fabrics. 
  1. Disposal

  • Hemp fabric is 100% biodegradable and recyclable. Decomposes in about 2 weeks.
  • It enriches the soil during disintegration. Whereas some other degradable fabrics, leave toxic compounds in the soil upon disintegration.

Hemp fabric sustainability is unmatched in every stage of its lifecycle. Sustainability in healthcare is a dream that only hemp can achieve. 

From Bedding To Bandages, Hemp Fabric Can Do It All.

Now that we have established that hemp fabric is the most sustainable material for the medical industry, an obvious question arises. How do we use hemp fabric as a medical textile? Can doctors use it?

The following examples will show how hemp can do everything normal medical textiles can. All the while being far more sustainable.

  1. Surgical Gowns

Surgical gowns act as a barrier that prevents the release of pollutant particles and germs within the operation theatre. Otherwise, the patient might get infected. The textiles used for surgical gowns are cotton, polyester, viscose rayon, and polypropylene. 

The most common among these is woven cotton. But it is a risky fabric to use since it is ineffective as a barrier and generates high levels of dust (lint). The other textiles don’t pose this problem, but they aren’t eco-friendly once disposed of. 

Hemp fabric addresses all these issues. When tightly woven, it doesn’t even let UV rays pass. It also doesn’t shed like cotton due to its high tensile strength. And it is completely biodegradable, unlike synthetic fabrics.

  1. Surgical Masks and Caps

Masks and caps prohibit microorganisms from exhaled air, and hair, from contaminating the operation theatre. They are usually made of viscose rayon, polyester, viscose, and glass. Surgical caps and masks are required to have high filter capacity and a high level of air permeability. They should also be lightweight and nonallergic.

Hemp fabric is perfect for this. It is breathable and filters the air as required. Hemp is also known for being light and gentle on the skin. 

  1. Surgical Drapes and Cover Cloths

Used to cover working areas around patients during surgery. Surgical drapes and cover cloths must be impermeable to bacteria. Their absorbency to body perspiration and secretion from wounds is also necessary. 

Hemp can do this job well. It has antibacterial properties and is highly absorbent. It is a greener alternative to fibers like polyester and polyethylene which are commonly used.

  1. Bedding and Corollary

Hospital bedding, blankets, sheets, and pillow covers are usually made of cotton. They get worn out with time as they are washed repeatedly. And soon, they end up in landfills. 

If hemp fabric is used for this purpose, it will last at least three times longer than cotton. The more it is washed, the softer it gets. So more comfort for the patients. Also, its antimicrobial properties will keep patients safe. 

  1. Uniforms

Clothing uniforms are worn by patients and hospital staff. They serve as both protective gear and apparel. Hemp fabric can protect from all kinds of bacteria and UV rays. They are also ideal for clothing. 

Since hemp fabric is resistant to fiber degradation, hemp clothing lasts for ages. Not to mention how comfortable it is to wear. Hemp clothing will neither fade nor shrink and expand with wash. Hence, these uniforms won’t need to be thrown out anytime soon.

  1. Cloths/Wipes

These need to be super absorbent and eco-friendly. Cloths and wipes are used to tend to wounds and clean surfaces. And they are thrown out immediately after use. 

Hemp fabric is ideal for clothes/wipes. Its antibacterial properties, high absorbency, and biodegradability beat synthetic fibers like viscose and rayon.

  1. Bandages/Dressing

As a medical product placed closest to an open wound, bandages and dressing material must have some special properties. 

These healing properties (regulated mainly with medicinal substances added to the dressing) include: 

  • gentle on skin
  • causing no mechanical injury of a granulating wound
  • decreased adherence surface
  • no possibility of loose fibers getting caught in the wound
  • stable and spatial structure
  • high absorbency of wound secretion
  • durability of the material, since only the outer gauze compress is changed

All of this is possible with hemp. Thanks to hemp fabric’s medicinal properties, structural integrity, and blend-ability with other fibers, dressings, and bandages can be easily manufactured. Once disposed of, it will disintegrate within two weeks.

  1. Hospital Furniture

Upholstered hospital furniture and couches can benefit exponentially from hemp fabric. There are some drawbacks of furniture fabrics that hemp can address. 

Usually covered with some blend of natural and synthetic fabrics, the furniture can look old and worn out pretty soon. Jaded-looking furniture is not a rare sight in hospitals. Furniture is never washed or cleaned either, adding to its risk factor in a place like a hospital. 

Hemp’s antibacterial properties would ascertain no bacteria thrive on the furniture. Due to its durability, hemp fabric furniture will not fade or look worn out. Hemp is also gentle on the skin. This means people will not have an allergic reaction to it unlike they have with latex.

  1. Towels

Towels made of hemp would kill all microorganisms before they infect someone. They will only get softer with time. They will last long and quickly absorb water.

  1. Sanitary Napkins/Incontinence Diapers

These medical products are usually made of cotton. The problem with that is threefold. Bacteria can thrive in cotton. After a short while, cotton reaches its maximum absorbing limit. And when either of these two happen, cotton pads and diapers become irritating to the skin. 

As we have seen already, hemp will pose none of these problems.

Hemp Is The Future. And The Medical Industry Needs To Get On Board.

Hemp beats both natural and synthetic fibers, as easily as taking a stroll in the park. The medicinal properties of hemp, along with its sustainability factor, make it an invincible competitor to all other fibers. What hemp can do for the medical industry single-handedly, is unprecedented.

By now, it should be clear as day why hemp fabric is the most sustainable material for the medical industry. It outdoes any other fabric. Embracing hemp would revolutionize the medical field. 

Sustainability in the medical field is a pressing issue. If no heed is paid to it now when medical waste pollution is at its peak, it might be too late in the future. 

Sources:

https://noharm-global.org/sites/default/files/documents-files/5961/HealthCaresClimateFootprint_090619.pdf
https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/hospitals-race-save-patients-and-planet
https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200813-the-hidden-harm-of-medical-plastic-waste-and-pollution
https://hemp-copenhagen.dk/images/Advances%20in%20the%20Performance%20and%20Application%20of%20Hemp%20Fiber.pdf
https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200813-the-hidden-harm-of-medical-plastic-waste-and-pollution
https://www.blabel.in/blogs/hemp-lovers/from-a-hemp-plant-to-sustainable-clothing#:~:text=Hemp%20is%20one%20such%20sustainable,well%20as%20for%20the%20environment.&text=Adding%20to%20that%2C%20hemp%20is,from%20and%20creating%20less%20waste.
https://indohemp.com/blog/hemp-fabric/
https://hempfabriclab.com/blogs/news/can-hemp-be-the-textile-of-the-future
https://news.green-flower.com/the-health-benefits-of-hemp-fabric-will-shock-you/
https://www.blabel.in/blogs/hemp-lovers/8-mind-boggling-benefits-of-hemp-clothing
https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/hemp-fabric
https://www.technicaltextile.net/articles/medical-textiles-2587
https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/1704/medical-textiles-healthcare-and-hygiene
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