Hemp 101: Why use Hemp?
We’re an eco-friendly Colorado based company, so you know at some point we’d have to discuss Hemp. When asked about the fabric that we use in our sustainable wraps or re-usable coffee filters, we proudly tell them that they’re made of a 100% organic cotton hemp blend. The next question we get, is why hemp?
Before getting started on our reasons, lets clear up another common question; Isn't hemp just marijuana?
While hemp and marijuana are both derived from the cannabis plant, they are not one and the same. The difference between the two is based on the THC content. THC is the psychoactive component that causes a ‘high’, and cannabis plants have naturally varying levels of it. THC content below .3% is classified as hemp; anything above that is classified as marijuana, which averages a significantly higher THC content of 5-20% .
Due to the low levels of THC, you cannot get high from hemp; no matter how much you puff, smoking hemp is the same as smoking oregano. Of course, that doesn't stop people from being suspicious that hemp is just marijuana in disguise. It's a real bummer though, because hemp is fascinating.
Hemp is that hippy person you know who seems to know how to do everything. It doesn’t matter if you have a question about how to make a sturdy concrete mixture for an off-grid yurt, developing efficient biofuel, or how to weave your own ecofriendly textiles… at some point, they’ve been an intern or took it up as a hobby. Hemp is truly a jack of all trades, because there is no part of the plant we’ve discovered that can’t be used.
It's fibers run the entire length of the plant, which is superb for fabric weaving. The longer the fiber (up to 13 ft in some cases), the more material you have to weave soft, breathable fabric from. That's why we happen to love using it; our selection of waxes and oils aren't the only reason that our wraps are flexible. The softness and ease of hemp fabrics make it easier for them to bend around different containers, and the tight weave creates a good seal against the elements.
You may be thinking, “Well, hemp sounds great, but how good is it for the environment? Hemp can substitute in for oil based or resource-costly materials, but does that actually make it a more sustainable alternative?”
Growing any crop large scale can be an environmental roll of the dice; it depends on whether the crop itself is suited for the area its planted in, or if it requires heaps of pesticides to maintain. Luckily, hemp is an actual factual weed.
Hemp can grow in very dense conditions, blocking out the light for competing plants without requiring pesticides to remove them. Resistant to most common pests, many hemp farmers feel no need to apply chemicals of any kind to aid in preservation of their crop . Hemp is often recommended as a rotational crop, as it has a tap root that digs deep into the soil, naturally aerating fields. Depending on what purpose the hemp will serve once harvested, leaves or unharvested plant material can be left in the field to become fertilizer, which aids in the growth of the next round of crops on that plot.
Industrial agriculture is a thirsty business, requiring a steady and vast supply of water. Hemp doesn’t require irrigation, which is ideal for water poor regions or regions soon to be impacted by droughts due to climate change. When processing for textile production, hemp requires ¼ of the water that would be needed to process cotton .
If all of that wasn’t sweet enough, the carbon footprint for organic hemp fabric is on par with organic cotton, but because it can grow in such high density it requires half as much land per ton of finished textile .
That's why we love to use hemp in the basis of our products, and why we gush over the stuff at any opportunity. At this point the question is really why don't we see it being used more? That's a far more complicated, and scandalous, topic for another day. Make sure you get comfy with some snacks, its a bumpy ride.
And just for the nerds... If you're still on the prowl for hemp facts, look into its applications as a substitute for wood in paper! Going paperless is often one of the first goals for someone looking to live a more sustainable life, and it’s easy to understand why. Growing trees for paper takes up a lot of land and a lot of time (depending on the tree, upwards of twenty years to reach mature chopping age), and the process itself isn’t that efficient when you boil it all down. Cellulose is what’s required for a finished paper product, which accounts for 30% of any given tree . Hemp has a significantly shorter growth cycle than even the fastest growing trees, going from seed to harvestable plant in just four months, and one acre can produce as much paper as 4-10 acres of trees ; in addition, hemp is made of up to 85% cellulose, providing more material that can be converted into a usable finished product .
If fabric is more your bag, and you’d like more information on hemp in textiles, you can read a comparison of Cotton, Hemp, and Polyester for energy, carbon emissions, and water use by the Stockholm Environment Institute here. It’s a very interesting report, but a bit too dense to cover fully here.
If you're a trivia junky, here's some fun facts for you. The legal definition of hemp vs. marijuana is extremely recent; It was initially proposed in 1979 by a man named Eric Smalls, and later adopted by President Barack Obama in the 2014 Farm Bill.