The Impact of Hemp on the Environment

Hemp is useful for many reasons. 

Industrial hemp has thousands of industrial uses. It can sub out for plastic, enrich the soil, absorb and “sequester” harmful toxins, and much more. It might not be such a stretch to say hemp could save the world! Here’s why.

Hemp vs. plastic

Plastic might be convenient, but sooner or later, our culture needs to realize something a little more inconvenient: plastic is poisoning the environment. Its production involves all sorts of harmful oils, it takes forever to degrade, and it’s hazardous to small animals. 

Thanks to hemp, however, there’s a better way. The plant’s rugged bast fibers can be made into all sorts of plastic-like composites. In the first part of the 20th century, Forbes  notes, “hemp-derived cellulose was promoted as an affordable and renewable raw material for plastics […].” 

That era was part of hemp’s first golden age, and indeed, the plant permeated mainstream awareness enough for Henry Ford to build a concept car from hemp-based materials. The vehicle was lightweight, affordable, and practically dent-proof. 

Although it was banned by conflict-of-interest-laden groups a few years later, the plant is making an incredible resurgence. Hemp is once again being used to make prototype composites, and some scientists even think it could be used to make eco-friendly, super-efficient batteries. 

Hemp for healthy soil

In other good news, hemp’s utility doesn’t begin when the plant is cut down — the plant benefits its environment even when it’s still growing! 

How, you might ask? Namely by promoting healthy soil. Hemp requires lots of nitrogen to grow; as it gets bigger and its metabolic demands rise, it actually ‘pulls’ nitrogen out of the air and into the soil. 

And that’s not all. Like other plants, hemp produces energy by ‘inhaling’ CO2 and releasing oxygen, which means it could play a vital role in slowing down runaway CO2 levels if grown on a widespread scale. Case in point: every ton of hemp grown removes an incredible 1.6 tons of CO2 from the air. 

Even the hemp that’s left in the field to decompose at season’s end has a part to play. Rich in biomass, carbon, and other essential nutrients, it contributes plenty of goodness to any farmer’s composting plans. 

Hemp and the rainforests

It might be a little stretch to say that hemp could save the rainforests, but hear us out. Right now, rainforests across the world are being cut down at an alarming rate. Much of this deforestation occurs because of the world’s demand for paper products.

And that’s precisely where hemp comes in. It reaches maturity in just four months, which means it could increase our paper-producing capabilities without increasing the number of trees we cut down—a future with hemp paper. The US constitution was written on the stuff, so it’s not inconceivable. 

Hemp for soil remediation

In addition to remediating the air, hemp can also be used to remediate the soil. Much of the world’s ground has been polluted with pesticides and herbicides by decades of unsustainable farming practices. These toxins then make their way into our water supply, food supply, and bodies!

But hemp has an incredible ability to chelate, or bind to, soil toxins. It’s so effective that it was planted in Chernobyl and surrounding areas after the city’s infamous nuclear fallout. If you want to remediate your area, plant some hemp. 

There’s also a flip side to this type of bioremediation, however. Hemp grown in poor soil is fantastic for the environment — but not-so-amazing for you. Only hemp that’s grown in verifiably pesticide-free soil should be consumed in any form, which leads us to our next point.

Hemp testing: a word of caution

The same bioremediation that makes hemp so great for our environment means that its testing needs to be taken seriously. Any pollutants present in hemp’s growing medium could very well end up within the plant and render it unsafe for consumption. 

Hemp farmers and companies who want to safeguard against this type of thing can do so by taking their lab testing seriously. Soil should be tested for pesticides and other pollutants prior to the start of each and every growing season. 

If pollutants are present, hemp can (and should!) still be grown — this hemp just can’t be consumed. Several cycles of growth should be enough to leave the soil pristine. 

If pollutants aren’t present, on the other hand, then any hemp cultivated will be safe for consumption. Those who want to hold themselves to the highest standards can run their hemp through several more tests post-harvest:

  • Mold (including mycotoxins and aflatoxins)
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Residual solvents
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol content

Speaking of lab tests, that’s exactly what our team here at INX Labs specializes in. If you’re a hemp farmer or processor who wants to ensure your crop benefits both the environment and its future consumers, get in touch with us today! We’ll be happy to hear more about your lab testing needs and how we can assist you.