What exactly is 'hemp'?
Hemp is a member of the cannabis family but does not contain any psychoactive ingredients and is grown legally in many countries around the world. Most hemp was, and still is, being grown in China, though countries such as Canada and Australia are catching up. Plastics are defined as 'substances that can be moulded'. In general, 'plastic' refers to petro-chemical based substances. The basis for most plastic manufacture is oil, a resource which is limited and becoming more expensive each year. To define hemp plastic is easy - it is any 'mouldable material containing hemp'
Polypropylene (PP) is one of the world's most commonly used plastics, used in a variety of manufactured products. The initial product manufactured from hemp plastic was the 'High-Fly' Frisbee. Global annual plastic consumption has grown from a mere 5m or so tonnes in the 1950's, to a massive 100m tonnes today. From a single tonne of plastics, we can only produce either 20,000 drink bottles or 120,000 shopping bags. Plastic makes up around 7% of the average household dustbin.
Apart from fibre production, PP is mostly used for injection moulding. Blending PP with hemp fibres however - whilst improving the strength and heat resisting properties of the material - is more expensive generally.
In recent months, new and expanded production units have allowed for more cost effective production of Hemp reinforced PP, Polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) and PolyLactic Acid (PLA). Commonly, the hemp proportion of the plastic can be from 50% (the usual blend) up to 80% in some materials. Using PLA to blend with hemp produces a 100% biodegradable material.
Hemp plastics can be produced in various forms to manufacture:
Water supply materials
Many other household items
In PP reinforced glass-fibre, heat-resistant ABS and PC/ABS applications, hemp provides a more cost-effective option with superior properties. Hemp plastic may be made flame retardant using less toxic additives than are usual in the industry. New developments have allowed the blending of rice starch which are being investigated for blow-moulding applications. Once perfected, this would allow the use of hemp plastic in the manufacture of plastic bottles and bags. The most widely used material at present is corn starch.
As Hemp Plastic granules are new on the market, the hemp industry is set to expand significantly as a result - especially with oil reserves reducing and prices increasing every day - hemp can be produced sustainably and at a stable cost. Global CO2 reduction policies make hemp plastic a viable prospect and help toward calls for non-reliance on oil.
Hemp plastic products
are produced in a similar way to regular plastic products using injection moulding machinery. To see a product made from 100% hemp, visit www.hempplastic.com and see the didgeridoos there. Without glues or resins, this material is extremely strong. The full range of applications for these patented plastics has not yet been found, with ideas for new products arising every day. In the next decade or so you may well get to drive a car which boasts these technologies and can resist a hard impact, just as Henry Ford demonstrated in one of the earliest cars ever produced!
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