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Q&A: Are hemp plastics really sustainable? (Includes interview)

While true hemp plastic has a shelf life of approximately 3-6 months, which is good for composting packaging, it is not very conducive for long-term storage. So, most hemp plastic products are created with a mixture of polypropylene. This mixture negates hemp plastic’s ability to compost and reduces its likelihood of being recycled.

To look into this issue in detail, Digital Journal spoke with Cody Ziering, the co-founder of PAQcase.

Digital Journal: What are the environmental and safety issues concerning plastics?

Cody Ziering: Plastics are infiltrating precious natural resources like our oceans. This is quite concerning because when plastics begin to break down, small particles and chemicals are released into the surrounding environment. Some of these chemicals are toxic and these broken down pieces enter the waterways. Subsequently, these plastics are consumed by wildlife and people. In fact, humans consume thousands of plastic particles every year, just by water consumption. If we’re not careful, this could cause dramatic changes across all walks of life.

DJ: How are hemp-based plastics produced?

Ziering: Much like other plastics, hemp plastic is created from hemp fibers, namely cellulose, which is found in plant cell walls and helps plants maintain rigidity and stand upright. This cellulose is then extracted from the hemp plant and transformed into bioplastic.

DJ: Are hemp-based plastics better with these issues than petroleum-based plastics?

Ziering:Many hemp based plastics are actually petroleum-based products. From PAQcase’s Research and Development, we have found that hemp material suppliers are only able to get usable manufacturing materials that are at most 40% hemp and 60% plasticizer (petroleum-based plastics). Typically, these materials are only 20-30% hemp. Due to their plastic content and chemical makeup, these products are often unable to be composted or recycled in the US. If the recycling industry was to improve its processes, hemp plastics may be a viable alternative. However, until those changes happen, hemp plastics are only good on paper.

DJ: Why is there this misconception about hemp-based plastics?

Ziering: People want to see the benefits of sustainable plastics, and they don’t want to see any of the drawbacks. It’s true that 100% hemp-based plastic is recyclable, but can not exist in a rigid form. In almost every case, a plasticizer must be used. Most businesses are creating hemp plastics mixed with polypropylene, and these plastics become harder to recycle as they can’t be separated once manufactured.

DJ: Are many marketing claims incorrect? How can these be addressed?

Ziering:As mentioned above, these products are marketed as though they are detriment free. Hemp plastic can only be recycled if it’s strictly hemp. Marketers also claim that hemp plastic is biodegradable, however, it is only biodegradable in an industrial composting facility and will struggle to break down otherwise. This isn’t a material that can be added to your outdoor composting bin. As with most marketing techniques, companies creating these products are looking to sell them. Fortunately, there are companies out there that want to be sustainable and educate their consumers, and they are putting measures in place to ensure good practices are followed.

DJ: What are the best long-term, sustainable storage solutions?

Ziering:The most sustainable solution is to consume less, but we can also use ocean plastics and develop technology to make bioplastics more sustainable. Consumers should aim to re-use products and move away from single use items. Even if someone can reuse a doob tube, it doesn’t mean that they will. When plastic must be used, source it from somewhere it’s been forgotten about, like the oceans. It may still be a plastic product, but no additional plastic is being added to the equation. Of course, technology will help, however this is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. By moving too slowly, the damage may become irreversible. Furthermore, legislation supporting sustainable measures must be in place since cannabis companies must abide by rules set by elected delegates. Lastly, as conscientious consumers, we must make our voices heard by both cannabis firms and governing bodies to demand change in order to have a positive impact on the environment for generations to come.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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