As a plant, hemp is better suited to paper production due to its higher cellulose content and lower lignin content. Not only that, it is also much more environmentally friendly and durable compared to tree paper. This is because hemp can be produced considerably faster than trees.
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What is hemp?
Hemp is a variety of the cannabis family, which includes all types with traces of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in “marijuana” that gets you “high”. Although the cannabis family has many different species, psychoactive cannabis (sometimes known as “weed”) is the best known.
This is the most common cause of confusion between hemp and marijuana. Hemp refers to the industrial type of the plant, which is cultivated for its fibre, grass and seeds, as well as for the other natural healing elements present in its leaves.
What is hemp paper?
When you cut the stalk of the hemp leaves in half, you can see a long rope-like band in a tight, hollow tube. This band runs along the inside of the stalk, and is what is known as the bast fibre of hemp.
Long or short bast fibre from hemp plants can be used to make hemp paper. Fiber paper is a thin, fibrous, brittle and rough type of paper. Pulp paper, on the other hand, is not as robust as traditional paper, but it is easier to create, softer, thicker and more suitable for the most common uses.
Hemp has a chemical composition comparable to that of wood, which makes it an excellent raw material for paper making. Paper has a higher quality than wood because hemp pulp is much better for paper than wood pulp.
The use of hemp spread throughout the world in the 19th century. However, its popularity declined in the early 20th century when its production and trade became illegal.
The origins of hemp paper
It all starts in China
The origins of hemp paper can be traced back to China, where that was the initial use of hemp. To make the world’s first paper, the Chinese shredded hemp cloth along with other agricultural waste to create thin sheets.
The earliest paper discovered comes from the early Western Han dynasty, perhaps 200-150 B.C. This early paper probably replaced the inefficient stone or clay tablets.
Previously, hemp had been part of people’s daily lives for generations. At that time it was a source of food, cloth and rope, among other things, which made it an easily accessible raw material for the world’s first paper.
Its use spread to the Middle East and then to the rest of the world.
The Chinese realized that paper was necessary for record keeping, note taking, and printing books soon after they invented it. They also discovered that hemp paper could be used to wrap fragile products such as porcelain during shipping.
As a result, the paper spread throughout the Middle East from China. The first paper mills were built in China and the Middle East from the year 700 onwards. At that time they created hemp paper using human or animal power at first, then water power.
Hemp paper has been used all over the world ever since. In fact, hemp was used to print the Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Paine’s pamphlets and Mark Twain’s novels.
By 1800, hemp paper was even being used in Russia to print bank notes, stamp paper, credit bills, postage stamps, bonds, and stocks. In the United States, the use of paper made from hemp dates back to the time of the founding fathers.
The first and second drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on Dutch hemp paper in the summer of 1776. However, the final versions were written on parchment.
Hemp was considered an important part of the fight against Britain even before the United States gained independence. It was considered an important source of paper in the colonies and was used to create pamphlets promoting revolutionary beliefs. This fueled the yearning for independence among the colonists.
The 1930 ban
In the 1930s, large synthetic textile companies and newspapers used lobbying power to ban hemp production in the United States. This marked the turning point and the most serious crisis for hemp.
It was ironic since the regulations were passed just months after the science and technology magazine Popular Mechanics predicted that hemp would become a “billion dollar crop.” Hemp, and therefore paper made from hemp, has never fully recovered from this ban, so it is currently only used in special papers.
Benefits of paper made from hemp
Paper produced from hemp leaves has many important benefits. It could even help solve the deforestation crisis caused by logging.
Here are some advantages of paper made from hemp:
- Over a 20-year cycle, 1 acre of hemp can produce the same amount of paper as the equivalent of 4 to 10 acres of trees.
- Hemp stalks take four months to develop, while trees take 20 to 80 years to reach the right size.
- Hemp has a higher cellulose content (85%) than wood, which is the main element of paper.
- Trees contain only 30% cellulose, which requires the use of harmful chemicals to remove the remaining 70%.
- Hemp contains less lignin than wood. Its lignin content is 5 to 24%, while wood has a lignin content of 20 to 35%.
- This is important because the lignin must be removed from the pulp before it can be treated as paper.
- Paper made from hemp has a longer life cycle than paper made from trees. Unlike tree paper, hemp paper does not fade, crack or decompose.
- Hemp-based paper could be used more widely to assist in attempts to minimize deforestation.
How would hemp paper help the environment?
Preventing forests from disappearing
Every year, according to
the size of Panama, forests the size of Panama are cut down every year. Already 97% of the mature forest that existed in North America when European immigrants arrived in the 17th century has been lost.
At the current rate of deforestation, the world’s rainforests could disappear in just a century. Although some critics claim that after cutting the trees, paper companies plant fast-growing eucalyptus, the planting procedures used are a poor alternative. This is because when forests are cut down, biodiversity and wildlife disappear.
Securing species habitat
The use of hemp paper would prevent the continued felling of trees and the destruction of the home of many species of plants and animals. The loss of habitat for millions of species is the most serious consequence of deforestation.
Forests are known to be home to 70-80% of the Earth’s terrestrial vegetation and animals. Each year, more species become extinct as their habitats disappear and they become more vulnerable to poachers.
If deforestation continues, it is estimated that 30-50% of all species will be extinct by mid-century.
Fighting global warming
Climate change will continue to increase as our forests disappear. Forests are essential for soil conservation and air quality, as they are responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide and returning oxygen.
Forests also keep the soil moist and help maintain the natural water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Many regions of our planet will soon become arid deserts without trees and the shade they provide.
Trees also help in the absorption of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. With fewer forests, more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.
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