Helping Earth's Sustainable Management with a Plant

Hemp has the potential to be grown sustainably - it is a hardy, tolerant annual plant, and consistently produces high yields. Rather than harvesting other resources to extinction to fuel our industrial demands, at the expense of the environment, this resource could become the foundation of a pollution free eco-industry.

Current demand for textiles is satisfied by the intensive production of cotton and synthetics. Both of these have associated environmental problems. To produce high yields, cotton crops require pesticides, fertilizers and much water. Over 50% of the world's agricultural chemicals are used in cotton production. Synthetic production on the other hand involves the creation of toxic by-products.

Hemp however, can be grown organically. Fibres are hand stripped from the stem rather than big factories with smoke stacks and hazardous chemicals. Riddlestone et al claim that the crop certainly 'merits consideration as a new linen-like, environmentally friendly , textile fabric'. It is similar to flax (the fibres which make linen) in texture and cost, although contains twice the amount of fibre and is stronger.
It could be successfully grown in the South of England and could be produced with adapted flax machinery.

  Hemp even has street cred! Kathryn Hamnet, the famous British clothes designer has recently offered to design hemp-wear, and the first pair of Levi Strauss jeans were made from hempen cloth.

  Clothing, upholstery, nappies and much more!

Forest clearing and paper and clearly related. Whilst many suppliers now claim to be using paper from sustainable tree plantations - can we really be sure? Most European and North American forests have already been cleared, and the paper industry clearly had a stake in it. Since the beginning of the 20th century, increasing demand has been used to build profitability, and timber has been regarded as a cheap and readily available resource. Clearing of forests is most unsustainable. Traditional chlorine paper bleaching and the use of sulphuric acid to break wood down into pulp are also particularly harmful.


Hemp is an annual, fast-growing plant with 3-4 times the productivity of trees for paper production. Before 1900, paper was made from recycled rags which usually consisted of 75-90% hemp. Hemp paper is known to be durable and flexible and this has more recently been confirmed (Palni et al 1999). Pressures upon forests could be reduced and chemicals deposited into waterways would be reduced by up to 80% - sulphuric acids are not required to break hemp fibres into pulp and the product can be effectively bleached with the relatively harmless hydrogen peroxide rather than chlorine.

Traditional plastic manufacture involves the use and creation of many toxins. Some plastics themselves are even declared to be toxic to humans. These include PCBs which disrupt hormones, PCTs - endocrime disrupters (which have now been outlawed, but not removed from the environment), non biodegradable phylates found in childrens' toys and PVC construction materials, and the hormonal disrupting Bisphenol a. Uugh!

The primary constituent (77%) of plastics is cellulose ....  What's the highest cellulose content plant known to man? .... hemp! Cellulose can be extracted to produce non-toxic plastics!

Building Materials
The use of hard woods unless certified sustainable has become infamous and unpopular thanks to the work of charities like WWF. Hard woods have been all too often the result of large scale forest clearances from the world's richest and most precious resource - the rain forest. Is there a viable alternative for our building trade?

Hempen-plastic alternatives can be used to replace PVC window frames. The hurds from hemp stalks can be petrified by the addition of lime to form a mineral. Archaeologists have discovered a bridge built in Southern France between 500-751AD made by such means. There is a huge potential for all types of building materials to be created using this method - bricks, roofing tiles and plumbing pipes. Non-toxic paints, sealants and alternatives to bitumen can also be created.