Is Hemp Sustainable?

Exploring the long-term effects of hemp harvesting

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Hemp is all the rage now, with medical experts extolling the virtues of hemp extract to bolster general health and help target specific ailments. What not everybody knows, however, is that hemp has a multitude of uses besides for its health benefits. It is currently being used to create cloth material, synthetic plastic, biofuel, and even paper. With hemp usage constantly on the rise, the question that begs to be asked is, “Is all of this hemp harvesting sustainable in a long-term way?”

Before we get to answering that question, let’s back up to the basics. What is sustainability? The concept of sustainability has been defined as the ability to maintain the balance of a particular process in a given system without being depleted. When scientists speak in terms of environmental sustainability, they refer to the ability of an ecosystem to maintain ecological processes and productivity in the present, while simultaneously ensuring a sustainable future.

Living sustainably means using Earth’s natural resources at a rate that does not exceed the rate at which we can regenerate those resources. Put another way, we can only use the Earth’s resources at a rate at which they can be replenished before the supply is used up. This approach to living involves using the resources available while simultaneously considering the long-term effects. It also involves taking active steps to ensure the ability of future generations to continue the cycle of using and replenishing.

Quick Regeneration

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Hemp is considered one of the easiest plants to grow, hence its nickname, “weed.” It really does grow like a weed, proliferating quickly under a variety of climates and soil types. It also grows very tightly spaced, leading to high yields with a relatively small amount of land investment.

And as opposed to most plants which, as they are growing, deplete the soil of nutrients, hemp actually improves soil health. This allows farmers to replant a new crop immediately after harvesting without waiting out a fallow period, exponentially increasing the supply available.

 

Environmentally Friendly

Hemp grows viciously, quickly covering a large space in a short time. Because it grows at such a fast rate, it is not so vulnerable to pests and other threats to its growth. A study conducted by the Reason Foundation indicated that because of its strong resistance, hemp does not need the strong chemical-based pesticides and herbicides that most other produce requires. It is therefore considered by scientists to be one of the cleanest greens available, even when it is grown outside of a greenhouse.

Aside from not necessitating harsh chemicals to grow, this miraculous plant has a beneficial impact on the soil in which it grows. Using a process called phytoremediation, hemp can actually be used to naturally clean and improve the soil by extracting toxins in a way that has no effect on the plant itself. It is also a low-maintenance crop, using only about half of the water that it takes to produce the same amount of cotton.

 

A Variety of Uses

As a 100% biodegradable crop, hemp is now being explored as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to other materials and processes we have become accustomed to. The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance posits that by replacing plastic with a hemp-derived option, we can significantly reduce the amount of waste that pollutes our environment.

With the increasing amount of plastic floating in oceans and rivers across the world, this is a crucial consideration. A 2015 study published by the New York Times indicated that as much as million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year.

A scientific review published in 2017 indicates that hemp is also being used as a replacement for concrete because it is a carbon-neutral building material. It is even being used to produce textiles, with many clothing producers using it as an economical and sustainable replacement for cotton.


The Sustainable Miracle Plant

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With the broad recognition hemp is now gaining for its medicinal properties in addition to its multitude of other uses, farmers are busy cultivating this plant all across the country in order to keep up with the demand. However great that demand is, however, the hemp plant can sustain society’s interest in it because of its quick growing and low-maintenance characteristics.

For those who have an eye towards the future, hemp is a “miracle plant” with so many diverse benefits to offer. Put succinctly by Forbes, hemp is “a win-win for the economy and the environment.”


References:
  1. Study: U.S. hemp ban hurts environment, economy.
  2. Hemp Production eGuide » Hemps Environmental Impact.
  3. Sustainable hemp-based composites for the building industry application.
  4. Industrial Hemp: A Win-Win For The Economy And The Environment.
  5. Study finds rising levels of plastics in the ocean.

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