Hemp plastics are not strong enough or environmentally friendly enough to solve a plastic disaster
We hear from various quarters that hemp plastics will save us from drowning in mountains of plastic waste, but scientifically based data suggest that the truth is, as always, a little more complicated.
It is increasingly said among fans of this plant that hemp plastics could replace all synthetically produced plastics. Yes, cannabis can be a relatively affordable solution for disposable products. But what about things that have to last a little longer, such as phone cases, water bottles, car parts, binders, boxes, glitter and so on? And then there's the degradability problem itself - it's not as easy with cannabis as it might seem.
The average Westerner throws tens of kilograms of plastic in the trash every year, which is not exactly small. They then pollute the oceans, kill marine animals, poison the land and air, and accumulate in the digestive tracts of animals and humans. In addition, we still do not know what consequences the latter will have in the future. Last year, a survey by the magazine showed National Geographicthat 91 percent of all plastics in the world are not recycled.
Why do we ignore the problem?
If the previous numbers have upset you, now is the time to sit down. We have long known that plastics are more than harmful to the environment - but if we do not soon figure out how to get rid of them, the world could suffocate in a moment. Literally. Conventional plastics have been disintegrating for more than 400 years. No wonder, then, that animals at sea, in the air, and on land can hardly avoid them in their diet.
The study cited in the article National Geographic, where it was described as "the first worldwide analysis of all plastics ever produced", in addition, it comes with other frightening statistics. According to the article, “out of a total of 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced, as much as 6.3 billion tonnes have become plastic waste. We recycled only 9 percent of it. The vast majority - 79 percent more precisely - accumulates in landfills or falls somewhere. "Researchers estimate that" in 2050, there could be up to 12 billion tons of plastics in landfills. "
Roland Geyer, lead author of the study, explains that plastics have a short lifespan. Within a year of production, we will dump half of them to landfill or spread them around the Earth as garbage, which is unstoppably added to the other eight tons of non-fibrous plastics in the oceans.
The United States lags far behind other countries in tackling this problem. While Europe as a continent recycles about 30 percent and China (allegedly) 25 percent of its plastic waste, America is stubbornly holding at 9 percent, despite warnings about scientific capacity about what people can do to its planet.
Alternatives to plastics: bioplastics
The world really needs a solution. Because if we don't do something, there will be more waste in the oceans in thirty years than marine life.
The study showed that approximately 40 percent of plastic waste is packaging material and disposable products (such as plastic cutlery), which we throw back in the bin shortly after purchase. The positive news, however, is that about 1.1 million tonnes of the total amount of plastic "used" globally today are bioplastics, mostly biodegradable products made from corn or soybeans.
However, the competitiveness of bioplastics is limited by their production costs. In order to truly match the plastics of oil, bioplastics would have to cost at least as much, but even less so than ordinary non-degradable plastics. Strange how people choose to die in their own waste rather than pay a little extra for an environmentally friendly product.
Jim Happ from Labcon North America, which manufactures ecological laboratory aids, estimates that in order for bioplastics to actually replace petroleum products, they would have to cost about 64 crowns per kilogram. However, such prices simply cannot be achieved at the current technological level.
How are hemp plastics
The biggest problem in processing cannabis into bioplastics is the formation of long chains of fatty acids, which are then moldable. This process is easier when working with fossil fuels, because they form chains naturally. Hemp fibers only have to be made mechanically from plants, which makes the whole production considerably more expensive.
Another problem is that hemp bioplastics cannot fully decompose in a dump; special composting plants are needed for this. These would guarantee their complete decomposition within six months after the collection. This also only adds to the whole process at a price that most unfortunately do not intend to pay yet.
Are hemp plastics at all suitable for us?
Honestly, hemp plastics could actually be up to us too much degradable. They start to fall apart in the first year after their production. But we want to use some things longer.
To solve this problem, we would have to add other components to hemp plastics in industrial production that would guarantee their required functionality and durability - such as polymers. However, this eliminates the required biodegradability.
Biodegradable plastics only decompose fully in a suitable environment and at the appropriate pressure. Unfortunately, the ocean does not have any of these necessary properties. Jacqueline McGlade, chief researcher at the United Nations Environment Program, explains: "It's a good idea, but it doesn't work. A large number of biodegradable plastics, such as shopping bags, only decompose at temperatures around 50 ° C - and they really do not have such oceans. Water does not lift bioplastics, which means that they will sink below the surface and thus avoid UV radiation, another decomposing factor. "
And although eating cannabis is perhaps a little healthier than that made from oil, marine life will continue to be endangered. McGlade adds that another problem is additives, which are mixed into biodegradable materials in an effort to make them a little more environmentally friendly: "If we throw away such plastics, it is [these additives] that can do a lot of damage to the environment."
However, McGlade and other experts point out that the material from which we make plastics is not actually our biggest problem - that is, their consumption.
Unfortunately, the fact is that people don't just give up plastics overnight. Some companies, such as Hemp Plastic Company, would like to offer biodegradable plastics as the ultimate solution to all our problems - but unfortunately we must admit that this will not save us. The only thing that can stop the murderous wave of plastic waste is the decision to completely change your shopping and storage habits.
But when we work on such a radical change, more environmentally friendly additives (such as cannabis) could, of course, help us reduce the incredible amount of emissions released into the air from the production of plastics from fossil fuels.
Companies such as Lego and Ikea, which produce long-term functional plastic products, or Coca-Cola and Body Shop, which use bioplastics, are trying to change the focus of the plastics market. Some scientists think that this is also a step in the right direction, although of course we will need a much more effective solution in the long run.
The question that everyone should answer in their own minds is whether it is even necessary to invent a completely new type of plastic, when we can choose greener materials than plastics and a generally greener lifestyle.
The average Westerner throws tens of kilograms of plastic in the trash every year
Experts point out that the material from which we make plastics is not actually our biggest problem - that is their consumption.