HEMP AS PAPER
1937: Hemp paper making technology was effectively ended by the U.S.A.’s Marijuana Tax Act 1937, which compared hemp with narcotics.
1991: 0.05% of the world's total pulp production volume; only 120,000 tons of hemp paper produced each year from 23 hemp pulp mills worldwide.
Today: Most mills are located in China and India, producing moderate quality printing and writing paper. Typically these mills do not have a fixed source of fibre but use whatever supply can be found in the region. Only a handful of mills are located in the Western world, producing so-called specialty papers including: cigarette papers, filter papers ,coffee filters, tea bags, insulating papers (for electrical condensators) greaseproof papers, security papers, bank notes and various specialty art papers.
Today 99.95% of paper and card comes from trees but this was not always the case. Up until 1883, 75-90% of all paper in the world was made with hemp fibre. When wood replaced hemp, trees were considered a virtually free resource but as with many industries from this period, the future consequences were not foreseen. Today, the paper, textiles, building and plastics industries can all be replaced with hemp as they once were. The hemp industry promises to become the green industrial revolution which can solve many of today’s problems. Deforestation is a global problem, occurring 24 hours a day at astronomical rates. Today, we will lose 116 square miles of rainforest, or about an acre a second. Approximately 80% of the world’s forests are already destroyed and 70% of the world’s plants and animals live in forests. 40% of the trees cut down are used for paper and card making. Even with the introduction of new technologies and the internet, there has been a 40% increase in demand for paper pulp since 1998.
The pulp and paper industry is the 3rd largest industrial polluter. This is due to many factors including transport, energy use (5th largest consumer of energy in Europe) and chlorine based bleaches (3 million tonnes) which enter the water supply. Paper production uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry and it produces almost 32 million tonnes of CO2 in Europe and 120 billion tonnes worldwide every year.
During the late 1800’s, the population was a fraction of the size it is today. We cannot afford to continue destroying our ecosystem. We need to learn from the past and find sustainable alternatives. We only need to look at Easter Island to see what happens when all of the forests are cut down. Easter Island was once covered in forest and with it, there would have been a diverse range of wildlife. As the inhabitants of the island grew in population, they cut down virtually all of the trees and the wildlife with it. Erosion depleted the soils and made farming impossible. Today Easter Island is barren and virtually unpopulated. The main advantage of hemp is its growth cycle. Hemp can grow up to 15 foot in height within 3 to 4 months whereas trees take at least 10 years to produce a comparative amount of pulp. One acre of hemp can produce as much paper as 4-10 acres of trees.
Cellulose is the principal ingredient in paper. Trees are only 30% cellulose, requiring the use of toxic chemicals to remove the other 70% of plant matter. Hemp contains up to 85% cellulose. Hemp also has a lower lignin content than wood. Hemp contains 5-24% lignin whereas wood has 20-35%. This is advantageous as lignin must be removed from the pulp before it can be processed as paper which means less power consumption and use of chemicals. Chlorine bleaches can be replaced with non toxic hydrogen peroxide when dealing with hemp. (HT)